March 24, 2010 / 4:33 PM / 9 years ago

Turkey constitution bill due in parliament in March

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s government will submit constitutional reforms that have riled the old secular elite to parliament before the end of the month, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Wednesday.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) greets MPs from his ruling Justice and Development Party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara March 2, 2010. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The government has said the reforms are designed to bring the Muslim EU candidate country in line with European standards. Critics accuse the ruling AK Party of using liberal reform as a cover for efforts to consolidate its power and promote a secret Islamist agenda.

But the government lacks the two-thirds majority in parliament that it needs to amend the constitution without other parties’ help, and says it will put the reforms to a referendum.

But the opposition has threatened to ask the Constitutional Court to block the package.

Investors fear that rising political tension could lead to the next parliamentary election being brought forward from July next year, which would unsettle financial markets.

They also fear the state prosecutor could again try to ban the AK Party, as he tried to do in 2008 on the grounds that the party had contravened Turkey’s secular constitution.

“We are searching for consensus, we will continue this, but 100 percent consensus is never possible,” said Cicek, who serves as government spokesman. “Eventually it will have to go before the public.”

The head of the board that appoints judges and prosecutors, a key target of the reforms, said the changes could undermine the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.

“Some of the reforms in the constitutional draft are aimed at taking control of the judiciary,” Kadir Ozbek, chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), told reporters in Ankara.

The ill-feeling between the board and the government was illustrated on Tuesday when the HSYK abruptly ended a meeting after the Justice Ministry undersecretary walked out in protest at a proposal to discuss appointments.

DETERMINED

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan appears determined to press ahead with the reforms despite strident opposition from nationalists and a judicial establishment who see themselves, along with the army, as guardians of Turkey’s secular values.

Similar tactics have worked in the past for Erdogan, who draws vast support not only from religious conservatives but also from center-right elements and pro-business circles.

In 2007, he called a snap election after the military criticized his choice for president, Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears the Islamic-style headscarf. The AK Party got the biggest share of votes of any party since the 1960s.

The proposed changes would give the president more control over the HSYK’s appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court, and make it harder to ban political parties.

They would also allow for the prosecution of military personnel in civil, rather than army, courts — a measure opposed by the armed forces, which are already at odds with the armed forces over allegations of coup plots by officers.

Cicek said more amendments could be added to the package and indicated the government was not completely opposed to voting on articles separately, as the opposition has proposed.

The AK Party, which denies Islamist ambitions, defends the legal changes as an important step in a European Union accession process that demands a clearer separation of legislative, executive and judicial processes.

Editing by Kevin Liffey

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