Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected criticism yesterday of ongoing efforts to write a new constitution and said concerns that Turkey's women might see their freedoms coming under Islamic pressure were groundless.
The prime minister, speaking at a press conference in the capital, also signaled a draft constitution would include phrases removing the ban on wearing the headscarf in universities. "We are talking about freedoms here," Erdoğan said, when he was asked to state his opinion on whether the ban should be lifted. "The headscarf is not a symbol for a political party." He also complained, however, that the entire efforts to rewrite the constitution are being reduced to the headscarf issue.
Earlier in the day, Erdoğan said in remarks published by the Financial Times that the right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a student wears. "There is no such problem in Western societies, but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve this problem," he was quoted as saying.
Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has formed a group of legislators and scholars to write a new constitution that will replace the current one, written during military rule following a coup in 1980. The scholars' draft, which contains alternative proposals to lift the headscarf ban, was reviewed by AK Party officials last weekend, but there was no clarity after the meeting if the AK Party favored keeping the proposals, with reports saying that the final decision was left to Erdoğan.
Members of the opposition have accused the government of trying to put an Islamic stamp on the constitution and erode the secular traditions of the predominantly Muslim nation. At a press conference earlier yesterday, university rectors said the ban cannot be removed and called for a halt to efforts to rewrite the constitution.
Erdoğan responded to rectors, saying they had no right to decide whether the process of rewriting the constitution should continue or be halted. "They should mind their own business," he said.
Asked to comment on arguments that women not wearing a headscarf would feel under pressure to wear the headscarf if the official ban is lifted, Erdoğan said: "The women should not worry at all. We have been in power for five years. What happened? Was there anything wrong during that period?"
Şerif Mardin, a respected sociologist, said in remarks in a weekend interview that have widely been quoted in the Turkish press since then that the headscarf ban should definitely be lifted, but added that he cannot tell women not to worry about their future.
Erdoğan asserted that the new constitution would extend freedoms. "We are working with a pro-freedom approach. We don't want Turkey to lose any more time or generations due to fears," he said. "Criticism on method is unjust and fears on substance [of the constitutional reform] are unfounded."
The current constitution has often been criticized as being too restrictive and several nongovernmental organizations are known to have prepared alternatives. Erdoğan said the current constitution has already lost its uniformity due to previous amendments that have altered one-third of its text.
Responding to criticism from the staunchly secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and others that the reform efforts were not transparent and participatory, Erdoğan said there was no finalized draft opened to debate yet and emphasized that Turkey was only at the beginning stage of a lengthy process of writing a new constitution.
Accordingly, when the draft is finalized, it will be discussed with all political parties and sent to universities, media institutions and nongovernmental organizations for maximum public debate ahead of the text's presentation to Parliament. It will also be posted on the Internet for public access, he said.
"We are drafting a constitution for Turkey, not for the AK Party," Erdoğan said, emphasizing that there is a lot of time to debate the new constitution. "There are efforts to kill the work in the initial stage."
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2007, 16:01