In a victory for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkish voters approved wide-ranging constitutional reforms yesterday that the government says will strengthen the nation’s democracy and improve its candidacy for the European Union. To see the list of 26 amendments to the constitution that the Turkish government will now enact, click here.
The reform package did not come without mixed emotions, however, as some of the country’s citizens are concerned that the changes will weaken the army. Since modern Turkey’s establishment in 1923, the military has seen itself as the protector of the country’s secularism, staging a coup when it feels head politicians are leading Ankara in a religious direction. Indeed, the country’s current constitution was enacted after a military coup took place on September 12, 1980, exactly 30 years before Sunday’s vote.
AKP supporters rally in front of the party’s building in Istanbul on September 12, 2010.
While the approved amendments include positive changes such as protecting individuals’ personal information, allowing freedom of movement abroad, and permitting the right to petition, the proposed reforms also include amendments that opponents argue transfers the power of the judiciary from the military to the president and prime minister, positions currently held by the AKP, giving political leaders the power of “modern-day sultan[s].”
The Jewish population in Turkey is also concerned. According to Jacky Angel, a Jewish resident of Istanbul, “The Erdogan government will not be satisfied with this and will try to advance Islam in any way possible.” He continued, “Defeating the army is the key to allow him (Erdogan) to do whatever he wants, including promoting some controversial Islamic laws.”
It is too soon to tell whether the reforms were enacted because Turkey’s ruling party is serious about wanting to become part of the European Union, or because Prime Minister Erdogan is interested in taking power away from Turkey’s secularist military establishment. Indeed, that answer will only come when the new constitution is implemented. Nevertheless, yesterday’s event highlights how Turkish society remains polarized as the battle rages on over whether Ankara will turn East to the Arab World and Iran or West to the U.S. and EU in the future.