Turkish Prime Minister Recepy Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to draft a new constitution to ‘strengthen democracy’ as his ruling AK Party prepares for June elections.
Critics claim the current constitution curtails freedom of speech and the rights of minorities, with catch-all phrases like ‘insulting Turkishness’ being used to detain activists pushing for cultural and linguistic recognition.
The AK Party’s election manifesto was unveiled on Saturday, promising to slash unemployment, improve housing for the poor and transform Turkey into one of the world’s top 10 performing economies by the republic’s centenary in 2023.
Erdogan said a strong mandate would enable the drafting of a new constitution to replace the supposedly temporary one introduced after a 1980 military coup.
Members of Turkey’s estimated 15 million Kurdish population have long called for revisions to the constitution, as have non-Muslim citizens demanding equal rights with Muslims in education and property ownership.
Minorities are still governed under the rules of the Lausanne Treaty, a founding document of the Turkish Republic, which recognises only Jews, Armenians and Greek Orthodox while denying key rights to Catholics, Protestants and Syriacs.
Erdogan’s AK Party – characterised as ‘mildly Islamist’ – has been at odds with Turkey’s avowedly secular military for much of its two terms, with clashes over headscarves and the power of the judiciary.
Secular critics, many of whom welcome the gradual retreat of the military from politics, accuse the AK Party of planning ‘Islamisation by stealth’.
Recent months have seen a tightening of press freedoms, with the arrest of over a dozen journalists critical of the current government prompting a warning from the EU.
Opinion polls suggest the AK Party is headed for a third consecutive term after a decade of relative economic success and political stability.