Soothing rattled nerves of secularists in Turkey, who were irked by comments the speaker of the Parliament made Monday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made reassurances Wednesday that its new constitution will guarantee secularism. The speaker, Ismail Kahraman, had appealed for a religious constitution for the Muslim-majority nation.
In a televised speech, Davutoğlu said: “Secularism will feature in the new constitution we draft as a principle that guarantees citizens’ freedom of religion and faith and that ensures the state is at an equal distance from all faith groups.”
The prime minister added that Turkey’s secular and democratic characters were “not up for debate.”
Despite being a Muslim-majority nation, the modern Turkish state has disavowed a state religion since the 1920s, and is widely regarded as a model of secular democracy in the Islamic world. The country is a member of NATO and is also in talks to become part of the European Union.
Kahraman, who as speaker of the Parliament is also overseeing the draft charter of the new constitution, raked up a controversy Monday when he said that the country should adopt a religious constitution, considering about 97 percent of its population follows Islam.
“We are a Muslim country … Secularism cannot feature in the new constitution,” he reportedly said.
Given the outrage that followed his comments, Kahraman released a statement Tuesday, saying the views he expressed were personal and did not reflect the ruling party’s opinion.
The Justice and Development Party, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been in power since 2002 and among others, is also supported by Islamists.