Friday, September 10, 2010

Fears for Turkey's Future Roil Vote on Constitution

Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2010

Sunday's vote to amend Turkey's constitution is shaping up as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Eight years after Mr. Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party came to power, the debate over what this nation's devoutly religious, tough talking and charismatic leader believes—and where he really wants to take Turkey—is as acute as ever.

When he entered politics in the 1970s, Mr. Erdogan was by most definitions a political Islamist. As recently as the early 1990s, for example, he said in speeches and interviews that it wasn't possible to be both secular and Muslim; that democracy was a tool rather than a goal; that he was a "shariah-ist"; and that Turkey should stay out of the European Union.

Mr. Erdogan, however, underwent a dramatic conversion to liberal democracy, emerging to form a new political party, known as AKP, whose platform was secular and which in 2005 launched negotiations for Turkey to join the EU.

Now, he is asking Turks to approve a slate of changes to the nation's constitution that would improve civil liberties and could also enable the government to reshape the country's top judiciary—currently a bastion of secularist opposition to Mr. Erdogan and his party.