ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s parliamentary speaker on Saturday proposed a new constitution and re-establishing an upper house of parliament, apparently with the aim of reducing the power of the country’s top court.
The Constitutional Court infuriated the Islamic-oriented government on Thursday by rejecting legislation that would have lifted a ban on Muslim head scarves in universities.
It said the move would violate Turkey’s secular principles. Speaker Koksal Toptan, speaking in a hall at the parliament, said re-installing the upper house, or senate, would take off what he called “the pressure on the court.” The Senate was abolished two years after Turkey’s 1980 military coup on the grounds that it slowed legislation.
Toptan accused the Constitutional Court of “overstepping its power and seizing the power of the Parliament.” The government leveled similar accusations against the court on Friday night. “If powers encroach into each other’s territory that could most affect democracy,” Toptan said.
Toptan’s proposals immediately drew the ire of the main secular opposition party.
Onur Oymen, a prominent member of the Republican People’s Party, said Toptan’s suggestions “amount to threats to the Constitutional Court to cripple its powers after a ruling that annoyed the government.”
Party head Deniz Baykal said the political environment was not suitable to debate a new constitution.
The court canceled legislation aimed at allowing women to wear head scarves on campus. The measure had been approved by 411 lawmakers in the 550-seat Parliament.
The court, if asked, will review any legislation. Its decision is final.
The ruling did not bode well for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party, which faces closure in a separate case on charges of becoming “the focal point of anti-secular activities.”
The government campaigned for re-election last year on a promise to lift the head scarf ban on grounds of religious and personal freedom.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday said the verdict “is a blow to freedom of religion and other fundamental rights.”
Around 300 demonstrators, including some women wearing black chadors, protested the court’s decision for a second day Saturday in Ankara. The group said in a statement that they will “never give up efforts to make the Quran the basis of their life.”
The European Union, which Turkey is trying to join, said the ban was a domestic Turkish issue.
Many see the head scarf as an emblem of political Islam, and consider any attempt to allow it in schools as an attack on modern Turkey’s secular laws. Some also argue that lifting the ban would create pressure on all female students to cover themselves. Most of Turkey’s 70 million people are Muslim.