AK Party to have talks with opposition on constitutional change

AK Party to have talks with opposition on constitutional change

March 20, 2010, Saturday/ 17:00:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that his party would hold talks with the opposition next week on proposed amendments to the Constitution, but the opposition has said they vehemently oppose the changes.

Head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Erdoğan has said he will seek to win parliamentary approval for the changes but has warned opponents the government could hold a referendum to push through reforms.

“Parliament has the authority, the will and the strength to pass these reforms. I want to believe the opposition will behave with common sense. This is a very urgent need for Turkey,” Erdoğan told AK Party officials in a speech.

Erdoğan also said the reform package would be made available on Friday for political parties, civil society organizations and the media. Having roots in political Islam, Erdoğan says changes are needed to curb the powers of a conservative judiciary opposed to reforms and to bring Turkey closer to the European Union, which it aspires to join.

However, the AK Party’s critics accuse it of using liberal reforms as a cover for the encroachment of religious rule and have threatened to take any changes to the Constitution to the Constitutional Court. The AK Party denies it has an Islamist agenda.

“This is what Turkey urgently needs. Changes are never desired for personal reasons, but they are in line with the expectations of the country and the public, and the expectations of a country that is having membership talks with the EU,” he said. “Turkey has to make those long-delayed reforms. Every idle second is working against us in that regard.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed his AK Party’s provincial chairmen on Friday. The AK Party plans to share the details of the constitutional reform package with the opposition parties next week.

PM Erdoğan apologizes to Roma people

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apologized to Turkey’s Roma community, saying they have been denied citizenship rights. “If there is anybody who deserves an apology, it is the Roma people. I apologize to them on behalf of the state,” Erdoğan said in a speech to Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials on Friday.

Erdoğan recalled that during the “historic meeting” with representatives of the Roma community last Sunday as part of a government initiative to find solutions to the problems faced by the Roma, the community expressed hope regarding the government’s move. The meeting with the Roma was held at İstanbul’s Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall and was attended by about 13,000 Roma.

Erdoğan pointed out that some newspaper columnists compared the situation of the Roma with the situation of the Armenian citizens working in Turkey illegally. His comments were in reference to some newspaper columnists who criticized Erdoğan’s remarks regarding illegal Armenian workers in which he said Turkey could deport them if it wanted to.

“This comparison is disrespectful to our Roma citizens and to our Armenian citizens. Being in this country illegally is different from living in this country as a citizen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan pointed out that the democratic initiative has not died and said he has to clarify some points.

“Our project, this process, is not just about finding solutions to the problems of the Kurdish people. This project covers all trouble areas,” he said, and added that Sunnis and Alevis have problems that need to be addressed.

Regarding the calls made by Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) officials to participate in dialogue with the government regarding solving the Kurdish issue, Erdoğan said they would never agree to address the “terrorist organization” on matters of freedom and peace, implying links between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the BDP. Musa Taşpınar Ankara

Business circles and investors are closely monitoring how hard the government wants to push the changes, which could pit it against a secular elite with strongholds in the judiciary and the military.

Any attempt at constitutional reform could precipitate snap elections at a time the emerging economy is pulling out of a steep recession, but Erdoğan has ruled out an early vote. A general election is due by July next year, and the AK Party is widely expected to win a third term, but there remain doubts over whether it will be able to govern alone again.

Changes to Turkey’s Constitution, which was ratified in 1982 following a military coup two years earlier, are a key requirement for Turkey’s EU membership bid.

The government has not unveiled its proposed reforms, but the justice minister has said they would include changing the way judges are appointed and making it harder to ban political parties, along with possible reform of the Constitutional Court.

The Turkish media have reported the government plans to include changes to allow leaders of a 1980 coup to be put on trial.

Investors, who favor the AK Party’s market-friendly policies, fear the government’s push to reform the judiciary could provoke a fresh attempt to ban the party.

In 2008 the AK Party narrowly avoided closure by the Constitutional Court after a case was brought against it by the chief prosecutor. It brought months of political paralysis and wiped billions of dollars from Turkish markets.

Critics from the opposition says they will never support the changes to the Constitution. Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Hakkı Süha Okay said yesterday in a press conference in Parliament that the government’s proposals involve changes in the electoral system that serve the ruling party.

He said that according to the government’s proposal, election offices would be opened and closed under the guidelines of public administrators in contravention of Article 79 of the Constitution.

He said police officers would be allowed to vote at the ballot boxes that they are supposed to watch on the day of elections. He said that if this practice goes into force, it would allow the ruling party to appoint a decisive number of police officers to the critical election areas.

Meanwhile, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Secretary-General Cihan Paçacı said that there is no consensus or political stability in Parliament to approve changes in the Constitution. The MHP requires a compromise commission in Parliament to agree on changes to the Constitution, but even then they want to leave the suggestions for change to a new Parliament to be formed after the elections next year.

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