(photo credit: Associated Press)
Turkey's Islamic-oriented ruling party is attempting to increase its influence over the judiciary, in a move that sparked anger in the opposition on Thursday.
"We will say 'no' to these constitutional changes," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the new leader of the opposition Republican People's Party told party supporters.
The comments came a day after Turkey's highest court rejected the opposition's attempt to get the reforms canceled and approved a Sept. 12 referendum.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government insists the amendments will strengthen democracy, expand the rights of women and children and enshrine the right to privacy.
The reforms, which include putting military commanders before civilian courts and giving parliament a say in appointing judges, were approved in parliament in May. They failed to get sufficient votes to be adopted outright, but enough for them to be decided by a referendum.
The court made slight adjustments to two fiercely contested measures that the opposition says will reduce the independence of the courts, but the party said the adjustments did not go far enough.
"The Constitutional Court's ruling did not satisfy our demands," Kilicdaroglu said.
The opposition accuses the government of trying to dilute the independence of the courts — including the Constitutional Court — by giving parliament or the president more say in the appointment of justices as well as members of a council that oversees judges and prosecutors.
Erdogan's party commands a majority in parliament while the president is a former ally.
Erdogan's party narrowly escaped a ban by the Constitutional Court for allegedly undermining secularism in 2008. The opposition fears that if the amendments become law the party will be able to operate unchecked.
Turkey's secular establishment, which draws support from the military
and judiciary, has long accused Erdogan's party of trying to increase
Islam's profile in the country — a charge the governing party denies.
Erdogan's government, meanwhile, has championed EU-backed reforms.
proposed changes to the Constitution — a legacy of Turkey's 1980
military coup — include increasing the number of Constitutional Court
justices to 17 from 11, and giving parliament the power to appoint three
A council that oversees prosecutors and judges
nationwide would also increase to 22 members, from seven, and four of
the members would be appointed by the president.
Those accused of
committing crimes against the state, including military officers who
are suspects, would be tried in civilian courts if the proposed changes
are approved. Officers fired from the army for alleged links to radical
Islamic or other groups would be able to appeal.