Abolishment of headscarf ban causes rift within main opposition CHP

Abolishment of headscarf ban causes rift within main opposition CHP

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Abolishment of headscarf ban causes rift within main opposition CHP

The CHP held a group meeting at the party headquarters under the direction of its leader Kılıçdaroğlu. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The government’s abolition of a headscarf ban for female public servants as part of a recently announced “democratization package” has caused an apparent rift within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

As the CHP was holding a closed-door parliamentary group meeting on Oct. 11, CHP lawmaker Mahmut Tanal announced that he had appealed to the Council of State for an annulment of the amendment that enabled covered women to enter their workplaces with their headscarves. His announcement came as the meeting at the party headquarters was still continuing under the direction of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. 

When asked by the Hürriyet Daily News whether he had appealed to the top court with consent from Kılıçdaroğlu, Tanal refrained from responding while explaining the reasons for his appeal.

Separately, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebuffed criticisms against the end to the ban while claiming there was no neo-nationalism in Turkey. 

“Who are you? The nation has decided on it and it’s over now. There’s no neo-nationalist or whatnot in this country anymore; there’s the reality of the nation,” Erdoğan said.

CHP deputy parliamentary group chair Engin Altay told reporters after the meeting that he learned about Tanal’s application from the press and that it was not an official appeal by the party.

Allowing public servants to wear headscarves is against the Constitution and the principle of a secular state, Tanal said in his plea to the top court.

“As a result of social pressure, people may feel obliged to wear clothes in line with religious orders or they may be condemned by those who are wearing certain clothes for not wearing such clothes. This would pave the way for a breach of the freedom of faith. But freedom of faith should be secured with all measures in a secular state,” Tanal said, adding that the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had previously ruled that the headscarf ban did not violate human rights.

The CHP’s closed-door meeting came a day after a group of neo-nationalist deputies criticized the government’s so-called “democratization package” at a collective press conference.

Speaking at the press conference on Oct. 10, the CHP’s Süheyl Batum said lifting the ban on headscarves for public servants could only be possible with constitutional amendment and that the ruling party was breaching the charter by making the amendment. Also speaking at the conference, CHP deputy Birgül Ayman Güler described the government’s democratization package as a “counter-revolution package.”

Kılıçdaroğlu has so far not publicly opposed the move, and some neo-nationalist lawmakers reportedly conveyed their unease at the case of affairs during the Oct. 11 meeting. 

“If a covered woman is elected as a lawmaker, will we as the CHP accept it?” a lawmaker asked during the meeting. 

“The party’s central executive board will decide on such issues,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, without elaborating.
Some lawmakers, in response, said the ruling party was attempting to portray the CHP as anti-religious by using the headscarf issue and that the issue should be no longer remain on the public agenda.

Meanwhile, Altay submitted a bill to reintroduce a national oath that was obligatory for primary school students until it was abolished, along with the headscarf ban, with the democratization package.

The student oath, which starts with the words “I’m Turkish, I’m righteous, I’m hardworking” and ends with the phrase “How happy is he who says, ‘I am a Turk” was officially removed from primary schools earlier this week.

During the meeting, some lawmakers reportedly criticized Altay for the bill claiming that it was an “unnecessary step.” Güler reportedly defended the move stressing that Kılıçdaroğlu also opposed the abolition of the oath.