Trouble in Turkey 2: Islamist Govt Takes on Judges
Turkey’s PM eyes referendum to curb judges’ powers
Turkey’s prime minister said on Monday he will take constitutional reform to parliament and hold a referendum if necessary, raising the stakes in a row between his Islamist-rooted government and powerful secular judges.
“The judicial system should be objective and independent at the same time,” said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, signalling that his AK Party might take a brewing confrontation with the conservative judges directly to the people.
“We are willing to carry out a constitutional reform and we’re going to bring the issue to the parliament with or without support from the opposition,” he said during a visit to Spain.
“We’ll open it to a public vote if we don’t receive support. Not only society, but also NGOs demand such a reform,” he told a news conference in Madrid.
Adding to fears of instability, Turkish police detained former heads of the air force and navy as well as other senior officers on Monday in an investigation into an alleged plot to undermine the Erdogan government and trigger a military coup.
The AK Party, which swept into office in 2002, ending the secularists’ decades-old grip on power, has enough votes in the 550-seat parliament to pass a bill calling for a referendum.
Erdogan gave no timetable for a possible referendum, which would further unnerve investors already already concerned by the growing political instability. Turkey is due to hold its next general elections in 2011 and Erdogan has repeatedly said he has no plans for calling an early vote.
The confrontation is the latest in a long struggle in the European Union candidate country between the AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, and conservative, nationalist secularists, whose bastions remain the military and judiciary.
The latest clash erupted last week, when a prosecutor, who reportedly had been investigating Islamic groups in the provinces, was detained.
He was accused of belonging to an ultra-rightist militant network, named Ergenekon, alleged to have been plotting a violent campaign to destabilise Erdogan’s government.