ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – The head of Turkey’s Constitutional Court has said he fears it may have to rule on planned judicial reforms that are straining ties between the Islamic-leaning government and the secular establishment. His comments will be seen as a warning to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to seek consensus and tread carefully in a political atmosphere already charged by the detention last week of dozens of military officers suspected of plotting a coup. The armed forces and the judiciary are the pillars of Turkey’s secular system, while the ruling AK Party has roots in political Islam.
Even though Erdogan has not yet unveiled his plans for reforms, rival parties and much of the judiciary have indicated their opposition.
The reform is likely to aim to curb judges’ powers and make it harder to ban political parties, after Erdogan’s AK Party narrowly avoided being outlawed by the Constitutional Court in 2008 for Islamist, anti-secular activities.
Court Chairman Hasim Kilic told the Hurriyet newspaper in a report on Wednesday that Turkey needed serious constitutional reform, but that it must be achieved through a broad consensus. “Initiatives to change the constitution in Turkey in recent times have caused a lot of tension,” he said. “My fear is that the judicial reform and constitutional change will come to us… “Turkey will sooner or later reach the target of being a country of law and democracy. But we are progressing along this path with very heavy damage.”
President Abdullah Gul has invited opposition leaders for talks expected to focus on the reforms. He was to due meet main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal on Wednesday.
Erdogan has said he will take his reforms to parliament and seek to push them through by referendum if they are blocked. He has denied any intention to call an early election if this, too, is thwarted by the courts.
Since it first came to power in 2002, the AK Party has repeatedly clashed with conservative, nationalist secularists who believe it aspires to make Turkey an Islamic state, something Erdogan strongly denies. There is speculation that Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya could launch a fresh bid to ban the ruling party.
Burhan Kuzu of the AK Party, chairman of parliament’s constitutional commission, said any move to ban a party should require parliamentary approval, as in Spain and Germany. “The Court of Appeals chief prosecutor is a recurring threat to parties. He hangs overhead like a sword of Damocles,” the state-run Anatolian news agency reported him as saying.
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has closed 25 political parties since 1961, the majority for separatist activities and a few for anti-secular activities.