ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his party could put to a referendum constitutional amendments which would protect women’s right to wear headscarves and a concept of the family if parliament does not approve them.
His ruling AK Party (AKP) was meeting the opposition on the issue as parties vie for support ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections set for next June, with polls showing support for Erdogan’s government slipping.
Other surveys show that few Turks see the headscarf as a point of debate anymore.
The headscarf was once a source of deep discord in Muslim but secular Turkey, but ceased to stir controversy after reforms by the AKP during its 20 years in power.
However the secularist CHP, a party having long opposed the wearing of headscarves in parliament and public offices, revived the issue last month with a proposal to enshrine the right as it reached out to devout Turks.
In response Erdogan raised the stakes and proposed a constitutional reform on the issue encompassing measures to protect the family from perverse trends.
He said a referendum could be called if the bill did not win support from the minimum 360 MPs in the 600-seat parliament needed for constitutional changes. AKP and its nationalist allies have 334 seats.
“We are ready to take other steps including a referendum,” Erdogan told AKP deputies in parliament.
The AKP was to hold talks with three opposition parties, including the largest Republican People’s Party (CHP), broadcaster CNN Turk said.
When Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu announced the CHP’s planned legislation on the headscarf in early October, Erdogan responded by saying the issue had already been resolved.
But Erdogan then pushed for constitutional changes including family-related measures, which Ibrahim Kaboglu, a CHP lawmaker and constitutional professor, dismissed as an “opportunistic” bid to advance his own agenda.
On Monday, Erdogan said the amendments also aimed to protect the family, saying: “While the unity between woman and man based on legitimacy is scorned; perversion, immorality and crooked relationships are being encouraged intentionally.”