The thrills of reform…

The words ‘constitutional amendment package’ don’t exactly set the pulse racing.

But whilst the reform bill currently grinding through the Turkish parliament doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of, say, the Sledgehammer investigation, make no mistake: it’s the show to watch for people interested in Turkey’s future.

I was hoping to post some helpful comments from the Turkish media showing each side of this deeply polarised debate, but over the past few weeks, the columns have been advancing so deep into a thicket of legal jargon and technicalities that they are now out of sight of all but the most intrepid followers.

So instead I’ll attempt my own explanation.

“They’ve gone to war,” is how one fellow journo described to me the actions of the ruling Islamic-influenced AK Party, led by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in tabling the amendment package last month.

The enemy is the country’s secular establishment, in particular its main bastion: the powerful judiciary.

It’s not the first time they’ve locked horns. In 2008, the AKP narrowly avoided being shut down by the country’s highest panel of judges after the chief prosecutor brought a closure case against it on the grounds that it was attempting to undermine the secular nature of the state.

The AKP, elected with a whopping 47% of the popular vote, avoided the attempt to abolish it from politics by a single judge’s vote.

Unsurprisingly, the current reform package seeks to curb the judges’ power to ban political parties, and break the autonomy of the country’s top court by introducing a higher proportion of political appointees.

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on (and I offer no opinion), these amendments are either a stride towards greater democracy, justice and EU membership, or a cynical power grab by a government with a hidden agenda of Islamification.

The fear of some observers is that rather than merely eliminating the power of the judiciary in politics, the AKP will go further by effectively placing the judiciary under its own control through the political appointment of judges.

So what’s going to happen now? Sometime in mid May, a final vote will take place in the Turkish parliament, after which the reforms are almost certain to be put to a referendum. The poll would probably be held in July or August.

However there have been dark hints from among the government’s opponents that an attempt may be launched in the courts to annul the reform package before it can be ratified, or even another bid to ban the AKP.

This piece on Ragan Updegraff’s excellent Turkish affairs blog gives the full lowdown.


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