Turkey’s new constitution will feature the principle of secularism, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced.
Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey’s secular and democratic character was “not up for debate”.
The prime minister’s comments came a day after parliamentary speaker Ismail Kahraman – a key member of the ruling AK party (AKP) – called for secularism to be taken out of the constitution.
Ismail Kahraman, who is overseeing the draft charter, said Turkey was a Muslim country and should have a religious constitution.
Turkey is a NATO member and aspires to join the European Union, which has traditionally regarded the country as a model of secular democracy in the Islamic world.
However, critics of the government fear the modern state’s secular foundations are being eroded.
Opposition parties also fear the new constitution could concentrate too much power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants an executive presidency to replace the current parliamentary system.
In a speech on April 27, Ahmet Davutoglu said: “Secularism will feature in the new constitution we draft as a principle that guarantees citizens’ freedom of religion and faith and that ensures the state is an equal distance from all faith group.”
Ismail Kahraman said on April 25: “We are a Muslim country… Secularism cannot feature in the new constitution.”
He later said his comments were “personal views”.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey’s main CHP opposition party, condemned Ismail Kahraman’s comments, tweeting: “The chaos that reigns in the Middle East is the product of ways of thinking that, like you, make religion an instrument of politics.”
The AKP, which has Islamist roots, has been pushing to replace the existing constitution, which dates back to a 1980 military coup and does not promote any religion.
Over the past two years, the Turkish government has lifted bans on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and civil service. It also limited alcohol sales and made efforts to ban mixed dorms at state universities.
The government has pledged that European standards on human rights will form the basis of the new text.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP holds 317 of the 550 seats in parliament. To submit its draft constitution to a referendum, it would need 330 votes , so it will need to win over lawmakers from other parties.