The Turkish Grand National Assembly [official website, in Turkish] on Friday approved a series of constitutional amendments [text, in Turkish] which had been proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [official website, in Turkish]. Changes in the reform package include an overhaul of the Constitutional Court, changes to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) [official websites, in Turkish], and new limitations on the power of military courts. Proponents of the reforms insist they are necessary in order for Turkey to meet the democratic and human rights standards required for admission to the European Union (EU) [official website]. Opponents, however, contend [ANSAmed report] the reforms are meant to consolidate power and to bring the traditionally secular judiciary and military under control of the government. The reform package received enough votes to send it to a nationwide referendum but failed to garner the two-thirds majority support needed to enact the law immediately. Opposition parties have indicated they will attempt to block the referendum through an appeal to the Constitutional Court, but they must obtain the signatures of 110 supporters in parliament before the appeal can proceed. If the referendum proceeds, it is expected to occur before the end of July.
Turkey has faced several obstacles as it works toward membership in the EU, including opposition to the constitutional reforms, its human rights record, its stance towards political parties, and tension [JURIST news archive] between the AKP and the military. Last month the president of Turkey's Supreme Court [official website, in Turkish] Hasan Gerceker [official profile, in Turkish] declared that the proposed amendments threaten separation of power and judicial independence [JURIST report]. Last year, the Constitutional Court of Turkey voted to ban [JURIST report] the Democratic Society Party (DTP) after finding the party had contacts with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a separatist, designated terrorist group. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile; in Turkish] has sought to end Turkey's 25-year conflict [BBC report] with the PKK, which has been a major impediment to Turkey's bid to join the EU.