ANKARA, March 22 (Reuters) - Turkey’s Islamic-leaning AK Party government unveiled on Monday proposed constitutional reforms seen by the conservative establishment as a challenge to the European Union candidate country’s secular order.
The AK Party, which says the reforms are needed to curb the powers of an entrenched judiciary and to bring Turkey closer to EU democratic standards, has said it will seek opposition support to win the two-thirds majority required, but has warned opponents it could hold a referendum to push through reforms.
Investors are closely following developments, fearing they could increase political tensions and lead to early elections, due in July 2011. Underlying market jitters over the reforms, lira and stocks on Monday traded weaker, while bond yields rose.
Here are some of the main reforms and key background.
* The reform would make it harder to ban political parties. The EU has criticised Turkey’s political parties law, under which almost 20 parties have been banned since the constitution was adopted in 1982 following a coup. The ruling AK Party itself, which has its roots in political Islam, narrowly survived a court attempt to close it down on the grounds that it contravened the country’s secular constitution.
* Under current law, the chief prosecutor can file a case to the Constitutional Court to have a party closed, fined or its members banned from politics. Critics say the law has been used by conservative secularists in the judiciary to overwrite popular support for political parties they deem a threat to the status quo.
* Under the proposed reform, a closure case could only be launched if it is approved first by a parliamentary commission made up of five members from each political party that has a group in parliament (parliamentary groups have a minimum of 20 MPs). The speaker of the parliament would chair the commission, which would need to pass the motion by a two-thirds majority.
* The AK Party says the reform is needed to promote democracy in Turkey. Critics say AK wants to use its majority in parliament as a cover for encroachment of religious rule and to dilute Turkey’s secular order, established by founder Ataturk.
* Among the most contentious issues is reform of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of courts. The EU has called for reform of the HSYK to ensure its independence, but critics say the AK Party wants to take over the judiciary to push its own agenda.
* The HSYK comprises of five judges, plus the justice minister and his undersecretary. The government wants to expand it to 21 members, a third of whom appointed by parliament.
* The HSYK has frequently clashed with the government, which last month accused the board of dealing a blow to democracy in a case that pitted the executive with members of the judiciary.
After the government unveiled the package on Monday, the HSYK’s deputy president was quoted by media as saying: “This is an act by the executive branch against the judiciary.”
* In a reform that would further curtail the powers of the once-untouchable military, self-appointed guardians of the country’s secularism, the government wants to limit the power of military courts by allowing military personnel to be put on trial in civilian courts for crimes committed against the security of the state and the constitutional order.
* Dozens of officers, including retired and serving generals, have been charged in civilian courts in recent weeks in connection with alleged plots to unseat the AK government.
* In January, the Constitutional Court overturned an AK Party-backed law allowing military personnel to be put on trial in civilian courts. The armed forces had warned that the law could open the door to politically motivated trials.
The military has ousted four governments in the last 50 years.
* In a separate change to the constitution, the government also wants to end immunity from prosecution for leaders of the 1980 military coup, who engineered the current charter. That coup was led by retired general Kenan Evren, who is now in his 90s and has spent much of his retirement painting portraits and landscapes on the Mediterranean.
* The government also wants to overhaul the Constitutional Court, charged with upholding Turkey’s secular constitution, by allowing the president and parliament to pick all their members.
* There are currently 11 sitting members and four substitutes. The president now chooses three members directly, appointing the rest from candidates nominated by civilian and military high courts and the Higher Education Board. Under proposed changes, parliament would choose three members and the president 16 members.
* Critics say changes would give the president, elected by a popular vote, leeway to dictate the court’s direction. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)