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Turkey backs constitutional reform

Atul Aneja

Makes armed forces more accountable to civil courts

— Photo: AP

Shot in the arm:Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Saturday.

DUBAI: Turkish voters have backed a package to reform the Constitution, which so far has favoured the military, the self-proclaimed guardian of Turkish secularism.

The results of a referendum held on Sunday showed that 58 per cent of the voters approved the constitutional reform package mooted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The amendments include 26 articles, which aim to curtail the powers of the military by making the armed forces more accountable to civil courts. Besides, it lifts the immunity over the plotters of the 1980 military coup, following which Turkey's current Constitution was drafted. The approval of the package will also open the door for key judicial reforms, including the restructuring of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors.

Both institutions have in the past clashed with Mr. Erdogan's party, which has stressed its commitment to democracy and secularism, notwithstanding its Islamic roots. Ahead of the referendum, Turkey's Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said: “This new model will prevent today's legal system from leading the country into a judicial dictatorship, while paving the way for other progressive reforms.”

Sunday's referendum, which saw a 78-per-cent turnout, also allows workers to join more than one union. Besides, it recognises the rights of civil servants and other state employees to engage in collective bargaining. It also promotes gender equality and bars discrimination against children and the elderly.

Analysts say the referendum has significantly boosted Mr. Erodagan's personal standing, and is a major step forward for the AKP as it gears up for Turkey's scheduled parliamentary elections next year. The AKP has also pledged it would go all out for the adoption a brand new Constitution after its much anticipated victory in the 2011 polls. “The main message out of the ballot boxes is that our nation said yes to advanced democracy, yes to freedoms, yes to the superiority of law — not the law of the superiors — and yes to the sovereignty of national will,” said Mr. Erdogan in a televised address. The Turkish government says its amendments align with European Union's criteria for membership, which Turkey aspires.

Observers say Turkey is likely to show greater assertion in its foreign policy in the wake of the referendum. Along with Brazil, it has already emerged as prominent player in nuclear diplomacy surrounding Iran. Turkey's popularity in the Arab world has soared after Israel attacked a boat hired by a Turkish charity that was carrying relief material for the besieged residents of the Gaza strip.

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