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Turkish PM Pledges Secularism to Be in New Constitution | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) in Ankara, Turkey February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey’s new constitution will maintain secularism as a principle, downplaying comments from the parliamentary speaker who started a public uproar by calling for a religious national charter.

This week, Speaker Ismail Kahraman stressed Turkey’s need for a religious constitution, given that it is an overwhelmingly Muslim state; a proposal that falls out of line with the modern republic’s founding principles. He later said his comments were “personal views” and that the new constitution should guarantee religious freedoms.

“In the new constitution which we are preparing, the principle of secularism will be included as one guaranteeing individuals’ freedom of religion and faith, and the state’s equal distance to all faith groups,” Davutoglu said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party.

Kahraman’s comments stirred opposition condemnation and a brief street protest, underlining the rift in Turkish society reaching back to the 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk forged a secular republic and banished Islam from public life.

The opposition also fears the new constitution could concentrate too much power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants an executive presidency to replace the current parliamentary system.

Davutoglu also said the government would seek a “liberal interpretation” of secularism, as opposed to an “authoritarian” one.

Erdogan and the ruling AK Party he founded, their roots in political Islam, have worked on restoring the role of religion in public life. They have expanded religious education and allowed the head scarf, once banned from state offices, to be worn in colleges and parliament. It also limited alcohol sales and made efforts to ban mixed-sex dorms at state universities.

The AKP is pushing to replace the existing constitution, which dates back to the period after a 1980 military coup. As speaker, Kahraman is overseeing efforts to draft a new text.

The government has pledged that European standards on human rights will form the basis of the new text.

The AKP holds 317 of the 550 seats in parliament. To submit its draft constitution to a referendum, it would need 330 votes, so it will need to win over lawmakers from other parties.

The headscarf ban, widely seen by the millions of devout Turks who back the AKP as an authoritarian stricture, was overturned by the ruling party in 2013.