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Referendum victory worries Turkey’s secularists

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2010-09-13

The “Yes” vote in Turkey’s constitutional referendum has strengthened the hand of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – but worries the opposition who fear an assault on the country’s secular traditions.

The EU and the US have welcomed Turkey’s referendum on constitutional reform, passed by a convincing 57 percent - despite opposition concerns that the move will damage the country’s secular traditions.

Some of the reforms – presented as essential to Turkey’s democratic evolution and helping its ambitions to join the EU – limit the power of both the judiciary and the army.

Both these institutions have traditionally been the guarantors of secularism since the Turkish Republic was created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

They have both been in open conflict with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamist roots. Both have been at the forefront of opposition to the reforms. In 2008 the AKP narrowly escaped dissolution for anti-secular activities at the hands of the country’s Constitutional Court.

“Since taking office, Erdogan has sought to dilute the secular and nationalist establishment created by Ataturk, which in itself is an attack on the power of the army and the courts in Turkey,” Ariane Bonzon, a French journalist specialising in Turkey, tells FRANCE 24.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that both these bodies campaigned against the reforms, she says, questioning the reduction of their powers that in turn hands greater power to Erdogan.

‘Risk of Islamisation is low’

“The fear of abuse is legitimate because these reforms will allow power to be concentrated in one party,” explains Alican Tayla of French think tank IRIS.

“The AKP has the presidency, the government and the parliamentary majority, which now has the power to appoint its own judges.”

Tayla believes, however, that the “risk of Islamisation of the country is low, as the AKP is not inherently Islamic.

“The party became conservative, [economically] liberal and populist in order to stay in power, he tells FRANCE 24. “The opposition and some observers accuse the AKP of attempting to apply a secret agenda to Islamicise the country, but the text contains no specific measures on religion.”

For its part, the AKP denies any intention to dilute secularism, which has become a hallmark of the country’s political outlook in the decades since the end of the Ottoman Empire.

The AKP has been in power since 2002 and has won two general elections and two referendums.

Erdogan faces his next elections in 2011. Sunday’s big victory may even convince him to bring them forward.
 

Date created : 2010-09-13

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