Turkey's referendum is a turning point | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 15, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 15, 2010


Turkey's referendum is a turning point

Erdogan must now dispel his detractors' worries

The results of Sunday's referendum in Turkey may well be regarded as a turning point, if not exactly a defining moment, for the country. The constitutional reforms package put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party now has the support of 58 per cent of the electorate. And yet the fact that 42 per cent of voters disapproved of the reforms is indicative of the deep divisions which still assail a nation in the political sense of the meaning. Even so, the referendum is a clear triumph for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies. There are quite a few good reasons why that is so. The most significant is that the vote reduces the power or authority of the military, which has for decades seen itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular democracy, in politics. That promises to be quite a change, given that the Turkish armed forces have on more than one occasion --- four in fact --- in the past four decades have launched coups d'etat against elected governments, especially when they have perceived a threat to the secular republic put in place by Kemal Ataturk.
The outcome of the referendum now means that elements involved in staging coups or planning coups no longer have immunity from prosecution, which in effect could lead to former coup leaders answering in civil courts for their past actions. A second note of happiness for the prime minister and his government is that henceforth parliament will exercise overwhelming authority in the appointment of judges to the country's constitutional court. For Erdogan and Turkey's Islamist forces, the courts have often been a barrier to governance. The judiciary has in the past stepped in to remove a government it thought was undermining the nation's secular spirit. More recently, it came close to clamping a ban on Erdogan's party on the suspicion that it was promoting an Islamist agenda in contravention of the fundamental principles of Turkey's secular constitution. Now, while the courts have their powers clipped, a new point of worry is that from here on the judiciary could be peopled by judges appointed on the basis of their loyalty to the ruling dispensation. That is a fear Mr. Erdogan will need to dispel without delay.
A clear objective behind the referendum was the government's feeling that Turkey needed to move closer to European Union membership, a process it has pursued for more than three decades now. The referendum, with its emphasis on a preservation of human rights and civil liberties, is one way in which the government will now show the EU that Turkey does meet its standards of membership. But there is one big hurdle Turkey must cross before the doors of the EU open for it: it needs to reassure the outside world that its long-persecuted Kurdish community will enjoy the same rights under the law as the rest of the population.

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