Calls by a top member of the ruling party of Turkey for an Islamic constitution to replace the secular basic law in place in the country, a NATO member and crucial U.S. ally, have been rejected by politicians from all stripes, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself a pious Muslim. But as Erdogan is trying to avoid a debate that could harm him politically, the question remains: How should the relationship between state and religion be defined in a country with a 99 percent Muslim population?
Turkey’s current constitution, which enshrines the principle of secularism in Article 2, was drawn up under military rule in 1982. All parties in Ankara agree that a completely new text should be written to give Turkey a more modern and more democratic outlook.
Erdogan is trying to convince Turks to also change the form of government from the current parliamentary to a U.S.-style presidential one, with himself at the helm. The opposition says his real aim is absolute power without the sort of checks and balances that limit executive excesses elsewhere, amid speculation in the media that a referendum on a new constitution could be called this year. Erdogan cannot be sure that a majority of Turks would accept a presidential system in such a vote, with some polls saying support for his plan is as low as 35 percent.
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