Parliament speaker: Turkey's new constitution should be religious

Turkey should have a new religious-based constitution which does not contain the principle of secularism, and the country should be defined as an Islamic nation, the speaker of parliament has said.

The comments come amid an existing debate in Turkey over changes to the constitution, meant to empower the presidency, currently held by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey, a NATO member, is also making a renewed push to join the European Union.

Speaking late on Monday, Ismail Kahraman, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), noted that Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, observes religious holidays as official days off and has state institutions that support the faith.

"We are an Islamic nation. Therefore, we should create a religious constitution," he was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Anadolu. He outright rejected the idea that the principle of secularism should be contained in the new constitution.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, a conservative party with Islamic roots, have been pushing for a new constitution for Turkey. The existing constitution came out of the 1980 military coup.

The head of the AKP's constitutional committee in parliament, Mustafa Sentop, responded to the speaker's remarks by saying the party never discussed changing secularism.

He added that Kahraman "is not speaking on behalf of any party."

Secularism has been a defining characteristic of modern Turkey, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The concept is mentioned repeatedly in the constitution.

The current constitution contains, as part of its core four articles: "The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law." This article is legally considered irrevocable.

Secularists in Turkey have taken to social media to voice upset.The leader of the main opposition People's Republic Party (CHP), which was founded by Ataturk, also condemned the remarks.

"Secularism exists so that everyone can have religious freedom," Kemal Kilicdaroglu tweeted, adding that the principle ensured "social peace." He warned that the Middle East's multiple crises are often rooted in religious disputes and warned against abusing religion.

Kahraman was once a member of the Welfare Party (Refah) which was banned in 1998 by the Constitutional Court for violating secularism. Key original members of the AKP, including Erdogan, were formerly in Refah.

Critics, including from the CHP, often accuse the government of infringing on democratic freedoms. Abroad, there is growing concern about freedom of speech in Turkey. The government says Turkey has one of the freest media landscapes in the world.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek this week said Turkey has set obtaining full EU membership as its top strategic target.

Last update: Tue, 26/04/2016 - 14:32
Author: 

Related

More from World

Jammeh looted state coffers before leaving Gambia, say officials

Former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh emptied the country’s state coffers before relinquishing power, a member of the...

Trump invites Netanyahu to meeting as new settlement action weighed

US President Donald Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet him at the White House next...

Trump's senior staff sworn in at White House

About 30 officials who will serve as advisers and assistants to President Donald Trump were were sworn in Sunday at...

Dozens killed in clashes in south-west Yemen

ozens of people have been killed in clashes in war-torn Yemen's south-west, a source in the Yemeni military told dpa...

Iran hands down 5-year prison sentence to British woman for spying

A court in Tehran has sentenced a British woman, who has already been held in custody in Iran for 10 months, to five...