Not that many of you get to vote in this referendum (if you do and you’re there, you still have a few minutes….), but it IS important, and, until very recently, there has been little press coverage

If you haven’t had a chance to look at it, last Fall I wrote what I actually believe to be a rather important little attempt to understand the current political situation in Turkey, which I think is extremely relevant to this current referendum: www.RickRubens.com/UA-Istanbul.htm#_Toc247697291, which was buried in an admittedly overly long piece on the Urban Age conference in Istanbul (www.RickRubens.com/UA-Istanbul.htm ).  After sketching out a quick overview of the current political structure of the country, I lay out my thoughts on the politics of exactly what is at issue in this referendum—which is complex, but terribly important.  One way of putting it is that it involves the tension between the secular forces in the country and the fundamentalist religious forces; another, however, would be that it involves the tension between military control and civil control; yet another would be that it involves the tension between Kemalist tradition and neo-liberal financial forces.    All of those ways of looking at the situation are true.  While I am fully aware of the dangers of the powerful role of the military in Turkey, it is still true that the old Kemalists (the military and the more powerful part of the Judiciary system in the country) are responsible for maintaining the secular nature of Turkey—whose role as one of the most important secular Islamic nations is quite crucial in our modern world. I, therefore, come out on the side that fears the situation is terribly dangerous in terms of its movement toward religious fundamentalism—and that potentially we are watching the early development of something not totally unlike what happened in the Iranian Revolution!  Some political shifts since the Fall seem to suggest I may be correct—not least of them being Turkey’s growing alienation from the West (and its growing economic orientation eastward [how’s that for redundancy?]), and its actually getting much cozier with Iran.  (You can see why I think this is both important and dangerous.)

Anyway, there is finally an article in the NY Times this morning which I’ll include below.  BBC News had started to cover it a day or so earlier (two pieces also included below).  Nevertheless, there has not been enough notice of this.  I recommend you all pay careful attention to this one!

New York Times

Turkey Votes in Referendum to Amend Constitution

Published: September 12, 2010

Filed at 7:37 a.m. ET

ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turks voted Sunday on whether to amend a military-era constitution in what the government says is a key step toward EU-style democracy, despite opposition claims that the proposed reforms would shackle the independence of the courts.

The referendum on 26 amendments to a constitution that was crafted after a 1980 military coup has become a battleground between the Islamic-oriented government and traditional power elites that believe Turkey's secular principles are under threat. The outcome will set the stage for elections next year in a strategically-located NATO ally whose regional clout has surged in recent years.

Street clashes marred voting at several polling stations in provinces with large Kurdish populations. A Kurdish party has urged supporters to boycott the ballot, arguing that the proposed changes would not advance the rights of the ethnic minority.

Police nationwide detained 120 people suspected of threatening people into either boycotting the vote or casting their ballot in a certain way, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said.

In Ankara, the Turkish capital, President Abdullah Gul appealed for harmony.

''From tomorrow onwards, Turkey needs to unite as one, and look ahead. Turkey should focus all its energy on the issues its people are facing and the future of the country,'' he said after voting. ''The public has the final say in democracies. I would like to remind everyone to welcome the result with respect and maturity.''

Voting stations close at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT, 9 a.m. EDT) in eastern Turkey, and 5 p.m. (1400 GMT, 10 a.m. EDT) elsewhere in the country, with results expected in the evening. About 50 million Turks, or two-thirds of the population, were eligible to vote. Some surveys indicate the referendum will pass; others have pointed to a tight contest.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voted in Istanbul with his wife and daughter, posing for the media with the envelope in his hands and saying the referendum was an important step for Turkish democracy.

The date evoked Turkey's traumatic past. Sunday was the 30th anniversary of a coup that curbed years of political and street chaos but led to widespread arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, and Kurdish militants launched a rebellion a few years later that continues today. The military's long shadow over Turkish politics has begun to wane only in the last few years.

The civilian government says the amendments fall in line with EU requirements for membership, partly by making the military more accountable to civilian courts and allowing civil servants to go on strike. The opposition, however, believes a provision that would give parliament more say in appointing judges masks an attempt to control the courts, which have sparred with Erdogan's camp.

The military and the court system, including the Constitutional Court, have sought to uphold the secular legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded Turkey in 1923, and the ruling Justice and Development Party has been accused of plotting to undo those principles.

The ruling party, whose reforms have won backing from the European Union, says the hardline emphasis on secularism and nationalism must be updated to incorporate democratic change, including religious freedoms. It lost a battle in 2008 when the Constitutional Court struck down a government-backed amendment lifting a ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves in universities.

If approved, the constitutional amendments would also remove immunity from prosecution for the engineers of the 1980 coup. Kenan Evren, the military chief who seized power and became president, is 93 and ailing.

Many Kurdish politicians said they would not vote because the amendments do not specifically address discrimination toward the minority, which comprises up to 20 percent of the population. Kurdish rebels announced a suspension of attacks a month ago, but that unilateral cease-fire is due to expire on Sept. 20.

On Sunday, in the Mediterranean city of Mersin, a group of masked Kurdish youths threw fire bombs and torched a car and a van outside a polling station, the Dogan news agency reported.

In the nearby town of Akdeniz, police used pepper gas to disperse stone-throwing Kurdish protesters near a polling station. At least 10 people were detained, the Anatolia news agency said.

Police also clashed with protesters suspected of forcing people into boycotting the vote in the southeastern province of Batman, Anatolia said. Six police officers were injured and four protesters were detained.


Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser and Ceren Kumova in Ankara contributed to this report.


And here, the first piece from BBC News:

Q&A: Turkey's constitutional referendum

The people of Turkey are voting on the government's package of constitutional amendments in a referendum on 12 September, the 30th anniversary of a coup that brought the military to power.

The referendum is seen partly as a vote of confidence in Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan


What is being decided?

Whether to endorse modifications to Turkey's current constitution, which would make the military more accountable to civilian courts and give parliament - the 550-seat Gran National Assembly (Buyuk Millet Meclisi) - more power to appoint judges.

The amendments would also grant civil servants the right to conclude collective agreements and go on strike, as well as lift immunity from prosecution for the leaders of the bloody 1980 military takeover.

If the referendum is successful, it is expected to finally dissociate EU-aspiring Turkey from remnants of autocratic rule.

What else is at stake?

The referendum is also seen as a vote of confidence in Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is expected to seek a third term of office in 2011.

His critics accuse his ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, of attempting to seize control of the judiciary as part of a back-door Islamist coup.

The AKP says the reforms will pave the way for a reorganisation of the high courts and help meet requirements for EU membership.

The existing constitution, ratified in a referendum in 1982, has frequently been criticised for allegedly being outmoded and curtailing human rights.

The AKP sees the military, judiciary and state bureaucracy as the last bastion of conservative secularism. They are often seen as self-declared guardians of the legacy of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

How many voters are taking part?

Almost 49.5 million people, out of Turkey's population of 74.8 million, are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A survey recently conducted by the pollster PollMark suggests that 56.2 per cent of the electorate will vote Yes, while 43.8 per cent will vote No.

The highest number of Yes votes is likely to come from cities in Central Anatolia, and the highest number of No votes from cities in the Marmara region, including Istanbul. The lowest turnout is expected in south-eastern Turkey, which has a sizable Kurdish population.

What led up to the referendum?

The package of amendments was prepared by the AKP, which has wanted to change the constitution since it came to power in 2002.

It drew up a draft in 2007, but could not enlist the opposition's support for it. The party then prepared a list of partial amendments, which will be voted on in the upcoming plebiscite.

The package was passed by parliament in late April and early May 2010 with 336 votes, below the two-thirds majority necessary to pass it directly, but enough to send it to a referendum within 60 days after the president signed the law. President Abdullah Gul, of the AKP, signed it on 13 May 2010.

Who are the main critics of the vote?

Turkey's main opposition party - the Republican People's Party (CHP) - as well as the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The CHP and MHP see the referendum as the AKP's attempt to politicise the judiciary and subordinate it to the executive branch.

The BDP and PKK have called for a boycott, saying the proposed constitutional reforms do not meet Kurdish needs for a brand new constitution.


And here, the second piece from BBC News:

Erdogan criticises opponents ahead of Turkey referendum

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "There is a flood of disinformation and black propaganda"

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised the tactics of his political opponents ahead of a referendum on constitutional reform.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of Sunday's vote, Mr Erdogan accused them of using "disinformation and black propaganda".

The proposed reforms include controversial changes to the judiciary.

A positive result is expected to help the country in its bid to join the EU, by finally dissociating it from remnants of autocratic rule.

The present constitution was introduced in 1982 by the military.

The EU has said it sees the vote as a significant step for Turkey's democratisation and modernisation.

Opposition parties say the changes will give the government more control over the appointment of senior judges.

In a speech on Wednesday, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said Mr Erdogan was trying to seize the judiciary.

He said Mr Erdogan "lamented" being able to appoint the president, the parliamentary speaker, governors and chiefs of police, but not a single judge.

"'Give me the authority, Erdogan says, so that I can also appoint judges," Mr Kilicdaroglu said.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says a "no" vote or only a marginal win would be seen as a blow to Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the past eight years following two decisive election victories.

Opinion polls suggest the vote will be close.

Propaganda war

Mr Erdogan has been travelling around Turkey for the past three weeks, trying to drum up support for his reforms.

But he told the BBC the main opposition parties were deceiving voters.

"At the moment, there is a flood of disinformation and black propaganda," he said.

Continue reading the main story

Proposed reforms

·         The military would be more accountable to civilian courts

·         Parliament would have more power to appoint judges

·         Civil servants would be given the right to conclude collective agreements and go on strike

·         The immunity from prosecution for the leaders of the bloody 1980 military takeover would be lifted

"They claim these reforms are my personal project or a project of my party - that claim is unfounded."

Mr Erdogan argues the reforms will make the military-drafted constitution more democratic.

However, his critics have accused his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of trying to seize control of the judiciary as part of a back-door Islamist coup.

The AKP has clashed repeatedly with Turkey's highest courts, which see themselves as guardians of the country's secular values.

But Mr Erdogan told the BBC his party had never discriminated between secular or non-secular Turks.

"We have brought services to all regions, all classes and all ethnic groups, without any discrimination," he said.

"From a wider perspective we are the real democracy in this region and as a democratic country we always want to do better, so with these reforms I will bring in a more progressive democracy to our country."

He said he believed that secularism should apply to the state, not the people.

"As in any country, in Turkey religion is an important factor in political life. Trying to avoid this reality will lead to the destruction of that society," he said.


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