Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a referendum to amend Turkey’s constitution in order to guarantee woman’s legal right to wear the hijab in state institutions, schools, and universities.
Speaking in the city of Malatya in southeastern Turkey on Saturday, Erdogan challenged the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to take the issue of introducing a law to protect the right to wear a headscarf in state institutions “to the people”.
The headscarf issue has dominated political debate in recent months ahead of general elections in 2023 that are set to be one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan’s two-decade control of Turkey.
“If you have the courage, come; let’s put this issue to a referendum… Let the nation make the decision,” Erdogan said in remarks aimed at the main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Kilicdaroglu, the leader of CHP, Turkey’s second-largest party, recently shared a video on Twitter to announce the submission of a draft bill that would guarantee women the right to wear headscarves while working in public institutions.
“We had made mistakes in the past regarding the headscarf,” Kilicdaroglu admitted earlier this month. “It’s time to leave that issue behind us.”
Experts believe Kilicdaroglu seeks to alleviate any fears his party would reinstate the ban and show religious voters they have nothing to fear from opting for his secular party next year as CHP has been established by the founder of the secular modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan has proposed a constitutional change that would “soon” be sent for approval to the parliament. “If this issue is not resolved in the parliament, we will present it to the people,” the Turkish president said.
Under Turkish law, changes to the constitution require the approval of 400 lawmakers without the need for a referendum, and therefore any change requires a consensus of the parties so the CHP would need to give its backing. Otherwise, it can be put to a referendum with 360 votes.
The ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions was introduced following the 1980 military coup and affected university staff, students, lawyers, politicians, physicians, and others in the public sector.
In 2010, Ankara lifted a ban on wearing hijab on university campuses and allowed female students to wear it in state institutions in 2013. A year later, high school students were also allowed to wear hijab.
In the final level of the ban, 5 years ago officers in the police and military were permitted to wear headscarves during their work.