Islamic Party a Big Winner in Turkish Constitution Vote
Byline: Benjamin Birnbaum, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan scored a major political victory in Sunday's closely watched constitutional referendum when voters approved a package of amendments in a landslide, handing his Islamic-rooted party a boost ahead the country's 2011 elections.
Our nation has said from now on, we go forward, Mr. Erdogan told supporters Sunday night. Yes to freedom. Yes to rule of law. No to the law of the rulers. The tutelage of the coup regime is over.
The 58 percent yes vote defied predictions of a more narrow victory and gave Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, a critical boost ahead of next year's elections. Turnout was estimated at more than 77 percent.
The White House said in a statement Sunday that President Obama had called Mr. Erdogan and acknowledged the vibrancy of Turkey's democracy as reflected in the turnout for the referendum that took place across Turkey today.
Many of the 26 amendments to the country's 1982 post-coup constitution garnered support from across the political spectrum, such as those promoting gender equality and union rights for public employees.
However, the proposed changes to the judiciary had sparked heated debate between the Islamic-rooted AKP and the nationalist and secular opposition parties that feared they would only consolidate the ruling party's power.
The judicial reforms will increase the number of justices on the nation's historically secular Constitutional Court from 11 to 17 while giving AKP-dominated institutions such as the parliament more power in appointing them.
The judicial branch - the last secular fortress, as many call it - will be neutralized by the new appointees, predicted Ilhan Tanir, a columnist for Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. Turkey now can be identified as Erdogan's country, much like [President Hugo] Chavez's Venezuela. His winning streak continues, and he's once more proven that he has an instinct for picking the right fights and avoiding the others.
Mr. Erdogan's successful moves on the judiciary follow years of AKP's steady effort to chip away at the influence of the country's politically powerful military, which had served as a bulwark against encroaching religious influence since the establishment of modern Turkey, at times overthrowing governments - as recently as 1997 - when the military leaders thought it drifted too far from the secularist vision of the republic's founder, Kemal Ataturk.
The referendum results, while not having much bearing on the military, are widely seen as a rebuke to the country's secular establishment.
As far as the immediate impact of the referendum, it is clear that Turks want change, said Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. They want to do away with the authoritarian legacies that the military bequeathed to them in 1982. …