Tuesday, January 22, 2008

AK Shows Reluctance to Move Quickly on MHP Proposal

While MHP has put pressure on AKP to accept its proposal to amend Article 10 so that it might be interpreted to guarantee state services to all citizens regardless of difference, AKP seems to be increasingly reluctant to accept the proposal. MHP is best characterized as Turkey's most nationalist party and its opposition to AKP's plans to pass constitutional reforms in the areas of freedom of speech and association are well-known.

It is possible that this is an attempt by MHP to co-opt AKP from moving forward with its constitutional package as a whole. Most certainly, the maneuver benefits MHP insomuch as it allows the party to express its support for lifting the headscarf ban and, of course, to blame AKP should the party choose not to accept its proposal. Significantly, MHP's recent maneuver has paved the way for an address of the headscarf issue outside of the constitutional reform process.

This should be interpreted as bad news for the overall project of constitutional reform in that should the party come to a resolution with MHP on the headscarf, it will lose the issue as political capital to be used when pursuing other amendments to the constitution—amendments that might do such things as render void Article 301 of Turkey's penal code. It is widely acknowledged that lifting the headscarf issue is highly popular with the vast majority of Turkey's voting populace.

MHP Adana deputy Kürşat Atılgan is quoted in Today's Zaman as proudly declaring that "MHP's proposal has cornered the AK Party. They have now realized that they will no longer be able to abuse this issue. We have sent a fireball to Mr. Erdoğan. Now they will try to slow down the process." There is no doubt that AKP is in a difficult position, but it seems that they are not rushing to endorse the MHP proposal. By Monday, it became clear that AKP was not content to settle only for an amendment to Article 10. Instead, it stated that since any such amendment might be left open to a broad interpretation that could be used by the Constitutional Court to maintain the status quo and might not give a clear enough directive to the Higher Education Council (YÖK), it is best to also amend Article 42 of the new constitution so that it will read that all persons have a right to an education regardless of apparel.

Most importantly, by reasserting its desire to include the issue in a discussion of the new constitution, AKP has declared its intentions to move forward with constitutional reform and to try as best its can to resist coming to a pre-mature settling of the headscarf issue.

From Today's Zaman:
In response to the pressure from the MHP to take immediate action, the AK Party still prefers to go the slower route of introducing a constitutional package to handle the headscarf issue. Ergün, who is asking for further discussion of the issue by the public, said in a statement to Today's Zaman: 'The proposed amendment to Article 10 of the constitution is not sufficient to lift the ban. Based on our studies so far, we do not believe that the projected amendment will resolve the issue. Academics also agree that the amendment will not solve the problem. If the issue is handled through a comprehensive constitutional package, a more reliable and sustainable resolution is achievable. Nobody should present a particular offer as the only viable option. Every proposal should be reviewed very carefully.'

Noting that the constitution and the laws in effect do not contain any provisions that ban wearing the headscarf and that the ban is implemented based on a narrow interpretation by the Constitutional Court, Ergün said the issue should be discussed further by the public. 'There is no single provision in the constitution or legislation in effect that bans the headscarf. The problem is based on the lack of a liberal interpretation of the constitution. For this reason, the constitution should be taken as a whole for a lasting resolution. The MHP believes that a one-article amendment will suffice to address the question. We welcome their offer; we view it as a positive approach. However, we also ask for discussion of several other issues at the same time. How legal have the implementations on this issue been so far? Why are arbitrary decisions contrary to human rights still in effect? Are the universities obligated to proceed with the status quo? Is it possible to implement a decision by the Constitutional Court as if it were law? We believe the issue should be discussed with references to these questions.'

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