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AKP explains charter changes, slams foreign descriptions

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/28/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The Western media has been keeping a close eye on Turkey's constitutional reform package. On Saturday members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, met with members of the foreign press to pitch the amendment package and to take issue with characterizations of the AKP as 'Islamist'

Turkey's ruling party promoted its new constitutional reform package to anyone who would listen last week, and Saturday was no different.

In a fancy round of show-and-tell for the benefit of the foreign media, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin outlined the proposed amendments at the Swissotel in Istanbul.

The reform package has certainly been at the forefront of the Turkish news agenda, and domestic media have pored over the draft document endlessly since March 22, when the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, first unveiled it. Foreign news agencies have not so zealously thrown themselves into the story, but there has been plenty of coverage.

The AKP move to present the its proposed reforms to members of the foreign media may have come too late in the game. The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times, El Pais and others all filed stories on the constitutional draft the day the ruling party released it to domestic media.

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Graphic: Detailing the reform

The Guardian began its constitutional reform coverage with this: "Turkey's Islamic-based government fired the opening salvo in a brewing confrontation with the country's secular judiciary today by unveiling a radical constitutional reform package that would give politicians greater power to appoint judges and make it harder to shut political parties."

The Financial Times led with this: "Turkey's ruling AK Party on Monday unveiled plans for constitutional change that would curb the powers of its most persistent opponents in the judiciary and military."

The New York Times outlined the reform package and highlighted the amendment that would make it harder to shut down political parties. "One of the most important changes, and one that may gain some support, would make it harder for the country's Constitutional Court, a supreme judicial body, to ban political parties for undermining secularism and the unity of the country," it read.

The Spanish paper El Pais described the draft document as "a constitutional reform package aimed at EU integration."

In fact, last Tuesday, many domestic news outlets centered their "day two coverage" of the constitutional reform package on the reports in the foreign media with press round-ups of what was being said in the Western media.

On Saturday the media cycle came full circle, and the foreign press once again became the center of attention for domestic media. The Turkish press lined up outside the conference room and where it was allowed in to take photographs and video of the meeting. At the end of the meeting, AKP representatives answered questions from the Turkish press.

The presentation to the foreign press came with a full translation of the constitutional changes and explanations of how the new structure of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, is compared to other parallel functioning European bodies.

During the conference, the AKP’s Hüseyin Çelik also took the opportunity to be critical of the foreign press on their descriptions of the party.

"In the Western press, when the AK Party administration, the ruling party of the Turkish Republic, is being named, unfortunately most of the time 'Islamic,' 'Islamist,' 'mildly Islamist,' 'Islamic-oriented,' 'Islamic-leaning,' 'Islamic-based' or 'with an Islamic agenda,' and similar language is being used. These characterizations do not reflect the truth, and they sadden us," Çelik said. "Yes, the AK Party is a conservative democratic party. The AK Party's conservatism is limited to moral and social issues."

Regarding the latest round of foreign press coverage, Çelik and the AKP's worries over being labeled some version of "Islamist" are not baseless. The Economist characterized the AKP as "Turkey's mildly Islamist" party. Reuters alternately referred to the governing party as "Islamist-rooted" and "Islamic-leaning." The New York Times labeled it both the "religious conservative governing party" and "Turkey's mildly Islamist" party. The Wall Street Journal also called the ruling party "the country's Islamic-leaning government."

Çelik took issue with the idea that there is a struggle in Turkey between secularists and Islamists. "This also does not reflect the truth," he said. Foreign media outlets have framed the proposed constitutional amendments as causing "tensions with its critics in the secular elite" by the Economist or "the opening salvo in a brewing confrontation with the country's secular judiciary" by the Guardian.

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