The Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) Constitution Commission in Parliament will maintain secularism in its draft constitution and excluding it has not been a question for the government, the chairman of the Parliament's Constitution Commission and AK Party Istanbul Deputy Mustafa Şentop said Tuesday. Şentop's statement followed Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman's suggestion to exclude secularism from a new constitution, which he later said was his personal opinion.
"We have not discussed omitting secularism from the draft constitution. The parliament speaker does not speak on behalf of the [AK] party. Secularism is maintained in our constitution proposal," Şentop said in an effort to end the discussion. Claiming that secularism is interpreted incorrectly, Kahraman said on Monday that there should be no such thing. "It should be a new and religious constitution. Secularism should not be in the new constitution," he said. Visiting Cairo in 2011, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had commented on secularism, saying: "Turkey defines secularism as the principle that the state is equidistant from all religions. Secularism is definitely not atheism."
Erdoğan had also recommended that the country adopt a secular constitution. Egypt was discussing a constitution at the time. Another AK Party deputy for Istanbul and former Constitution Commission head, Burhan Kuzu, assured on his official Twitter account that secularism is included in the draft. Kuzu considered Kahraman's suggestion as him exercising his freedom of expression.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, AK Party Group Deputy Chairman Bülent Turan said the party's stance regarding the secularism discussions is quite clear. "The AK Party included secularism in its work for a new constitution both in 2007 and 2011 in the Constitution Reconciliation Committee," he said.
He said that secularism was used as a stick to bash people in the past: "It had been used as a cover for the authoritarian practices of the regime. We criticized the misuse of this principle rather than the principle itself." Turan added that the AK Party stresses the need for a clear and understandable notion of secularism. "Our Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman expressed his personal views. Our party's stance is clear," he said.
A joint Constitution Conciliation Committee was formed previously by the AK Party, Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The CHP left the committee after refusing to discuss changing the country's political structure from its current parliamentary system to a presidential regime.
Kahraman had sent a letter to the leaders of all four parties in Parliament in late March, urging them to cooperate to form a new constitution after the main opposition CHP abandoned the committee. The CHP argued that there was no point is taking part in the committee before the debate on switching from the parliamentary system to a presidential system ended. The CHP has refused to return.
Şentop told members of the media at Parliament that there have been no changes in the AK Party's approach to the establishment of a new constitution, which he said would be proposed to Parliament in June. Şentop said: "Our work is continuing. The AK Party's working group is currently working on composing a part of it while the remaining sections are to begin soon."