(AFP) – Jun 7, 2008
ANKARA (AFP) — Turkey's constitution and parliamentary system needs an overhaul following a court upholding a ban on Islamic headscarves in universities in a major blow to the government, parliament speaker Koksal Toptan said Saturday.
The Constitutional Court overstepped its authority when it struck down a government-led constitutional amendment -- adopted in parliament by an overwhelming majority -- to allow women to wear the headscarf on campus, Toptan told a televised news conference here.
"This decision has raised questions over the separation of powers. It has led to serious concern over the development of our democracy," said Toptan, who has links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but is officially neutral.
"I believe it will be beneficial to debate a new constitution and the bicameral system," he added. "Such a system will reduce the load on the Constitutional Court and allow it to work more comfortably."
The Turkish parliament was bicameral under the 1961 constitution, but became unicameral again under the 1982 constitution, a legacy of a 1980 military coup.
Toptan said he was planning to summon main political party leaders for a meeting soon to discuss developments in the aftermath of the court ruling.
In its verdict on Thursday, the Constitutional Court annulled the headscarf amendment on the grounds that it violated the principle of secularism enshrined in an unalterable provision of the constitution.
The AKP, backed by a number of jurists, immediately accused the court of exceeding its brief, saying that it could examine only procedural flaws in constitutional amendments and not their essence.
A senior AKP member on Saturday gave backing to Toptan's proposal for an overhaul of the system.
The ruling "takes away or, at the very least limits, the authority vested in the parliament by the people. I believe parliament should defend its powers," Nihat Ergun told CNN-Turk.
But Deniz Baykal, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party which took the headscarf amendment to court, warned against constitutional change.
"Changing the constitution would be the worst possible thing to do in the current tense atmosphere," he said in televised remarks.
The AKP, which has roots in a now-defunct Islamist movement, says the headscarf ban is a violation of freedom of conscience and education.
But hardline secularists -- among them the military, the judiciary and academics -- see the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and a violation of the strict separation of state and religion.
The headscarf amendment is among the key pieces of evidence presented by the country's chief prosecutor to the Constitutional Court to have the AKP banned for being a "focal point" of anti-secular activities.
Observers say Thursday's ruling could be an indication that the court will go against the AKP when it makes a decision in this case. A verdict is not expected until autumn.
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