Turkish government pushes reforms towards referendum

Turkish government pushes reforms towards referendum
# 08 May 2010 04:32 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Turkey’s ruling AK Party won parliamentary backing for constitutional reforms on Friday, clearing the way for a referendum that opponents aim to block, seeing it as a threat to the Muslim country’s secular order, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan says the reforms, overhauling the judiciary and making the army answerable to civilian courts, simply meet European Union entry demands.
Political foes see the reform package as a furtive attempt to seize control of all levers of state by a party whose roots lie in political Islam.
The bill, which changes a charter drafted after a 1980 army coup, passes to President Abdullah Gul for signature. Lacking the two-thirds majority to give it automatic effect, it must then go to a referendum the government wants to hold in July.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government expected to get a "yes" vote at the referendum, and dismissed the notion that rejection could prompt the government to resign or call a snap election.
"We are guessing over 60 percent... they will say ’yes’," Arinc told foreign journalists in Istanbul.
"If there will be a "no" (vote), the AK Party will not resign... the government will go on with its job," Arinc said, adding that the government’s intention was to call an election on schedule, by July 2011.
Presaging turbulence ahead, a senior judge warned the government against reforms which critics say will prevent the judiciary from providing checks and balances.
"We have always emphasized the importance of separation of powers and the independence of judiciary principles for the society. Today, we repeat its importance," Hasan Gerceker, chairman of the Supreme Court of Appeals, told reporters.
Critics suspect the AK, or Justice and Development Party, of aiming to place its own supporters within the senior judiciary.
The main opposition party has said it will appeal to the Constitutional Court to block any referendum.
"Given the court’s track record, there is a significant chance that it will cancel the changes and halt the referendum process, which would raise the risk of early elections," analysts at Finansbank wrote in a note.
The secular-minded Constitutional Court has struck down several key AK reforms in the past.
Such a scenario could lead to institutional paralysis, which could force Erdogan to call a snap election at a time investors are already jittery due to global risk aversion on fears about Europe’s debt crisis.
Prospects for Erdogan’s AK Party winning a third term in office are unclear, but markets would certainly be wary of any return to the fragmented, warring coalitions of the 1990s.
The government had tried to include an amendment making it harder to ban political parties, but the article failed to get sufficient votes to be retained in the reform package that will go to a referendum.
The country’s chief prosecutor, who previously tried to close down the AK Party because of anti-secular activities, has said the reforms are undemocratic, and there has been speculation he could launch a fresh attempt.
Erdogan himself once served a prison sentence for Islamic subversion, but denies he has any Islamist ambitions in government.
His AK Party holds a large parliamentary majority, embraces center-right and nationalist elements as well as a core of religious conservatives, and it has earned investors’ praise for economic reforms undertaken since it took power in 2002.
Turkey has changed radically since the 1970s, when its economy was heavily state controlled and its politics bitterly fragmented and often violent. While the power of the military, which has removed four governments since 1960, has been curbed.