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Headscarf issues a major challenge for CHP

Kılıçdaroğlu’s ambition to lift the ban has seemingly disturbed some of his party’s deputies.
With Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu trying to stand firm on his pledge to lift, or at least help lift, the controversial ban on the use of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses, intra-party disagreement suggests that the settlement of the years-old question will be a real challenge for the main opposition party.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s ambition to lift the ban has seemingly disturbed some of his party’s deputies.

Nur Serter, an İzmir deputy from the CHP, asked the party leader how he would manage to do away with the ban “without denying the party’s past.” She was referring to a past attempt by the CHP to block the lifting of the ban on the use of the headscarf on university campuses.

In 2008 the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) passed a constitutional amendment package that would have lifted the ban on wearing the headscarf on university campuses. However, upon an appeal by the CHP, the Constitutional Court annulled the amendment.

“What kind of a legal arrangement will the CHP make on a constitutional amendment package it appealed at the Constitutional Court in 2008? I do not know how the CHP will manage such an arrangement without denying its past,” Serter was quoted as saying by the Star daily on Wednesday.
The CHP deputy also expressed unease about possible cooperation between the AK Party and her party on the lifting of the headscarf ban. She said if the ban is lifted, Turkey would start discussing the ban on the use of the headscarf by civil servants and younger students.

The current headscarf ban is a product of the military coup instigated on Feb. 28, 1997, through which the coalition government of the time was forced to step down. The ban affects university students as well as those working in the public sector. Women with headscarves are not allowed to enter military facilities, including hospitals and recreational areas belonging to the Turkish military.

For the past few weeks, the CHP leader has been engaged in efforts, or rather pledges, to lift the headscarf ban. He said the ruling AK Party has failed to lift it, but his party will manage to get rid of the controversial ban once it becomes the ruling party. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also the AK Party leader, thinks Kılıçdaroğlu is not sincere in his pledges but is only after political gain.

Erdoğan touched on the matter on Wednesday as he spoke at the inauguration ceremony of the new academic year at Marmara University in İstanbul and said his party wants to trust the sincerity of the CHP on the lifting of the headscarf ban.

“The inventors of the headscarf ban and the ones who kept Turkey busy with this matter for many years are now saying that they favor the settlement of the problem. We want to trust their sincerity,” he said and reiterated full support from the AK Party for the lifting of the ban.
He also called on all political parties to exert efforts to lift “neighborhood pressure” imposed on various circles in the society. “Let’s abolish the ‘neighborhood pressure’ imposed on all for their thoughts, faith and ideology. Let’s make everyone feel free and comfortable. We will work for anything that would contribute to the future of our country. We would discuss them with everyone,” the prime minister added.

CHP parliamentary group chairman Kemal Anadol, however, said his party would take steps to lift the headscarf ban only if the AK Party agrees to lift parliamentary immunity and abolish the election threshold for political parties. Otherwise, he said, the CHP will not cooperate with the ruling party on the lifting of the ban on the headscarf.