Erdoğan seeking to erase secularism from constitution, opposition MP says

The Turkish government is seeking to erase all mention of secularism from the constitution, said Rafet Zeybek, a lawmaker for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

“The aim of the government is not a democratic Turkey, but a theocratic republic based on the principles of religion,” Zeybek said in a press briefing at the parliament in Ankara on Wednesday, Diken news website reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began calling for discussions on a new constitution in early February. He reiterated the government’s plans on Tuesday when announcing a package of human rights reforms to EU ambassadors in Ankara.

Zeybek, a lawyer and member of parliament’s judiciary committee, said Turkey needs constitutional amendments, but that they should include steps to improve democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, and to guarantee the separation of powers.

The changes that the government is considering do not include any such proposals, he said.

The principle of secularism is an indispensable element of democracy, Zeybek said.

Turkey’s current constitution was introduced in the aftermath of a military coup in 1980, but the document has been widely amended, including during Erdoğan’s tenure.

While Turkey needs to rid the constitution of putschist ideology, the government is not seeking to revise its original articles of 1924, parliament speaker Mustafa Şentop, a member of Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), said in early February.

The 1924 constitution contained a provision that the “religion of the state is Islam”. Secularism was first introduced with a 1928 amendment, and through later reforms conducted by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to create a modern, democratic and secular state.

Erdoğan’s AKP is a successor of an Islamic movement banned by the Constitutional Court in 1997. The president is a devout Muslim. His party spends more of the national budget on the state’s department of religion than any government ministry, including the Education Ministry.