West News Wire: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has suggested holding a referendum to change the constitution to ensure that women have the legal right to cover their heads with the hijab in public places like schools and colleges.

Speaking on Saturday in the southeast Turkish city of Malatya, Erdogan urged the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to “take the issue to the people” about the introduction of legislation protecting the right to don a headscarf in public spaces.

Ahead of the general elections in 2023, which are expected to be one of the most significant threats to Erdogan’s two-decade rule of Turkey, the headscarf issue has dominated political discourse in recent months.

“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.

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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.

Following the military takeover in 1980, the wearing of headscarves in public places became prohibited, affecting university employees, students, lawyers, legislators, doctors, and other members of the public.

In 2013, Ankara allowed female students to wear the hijab in state-run institutions after lifting the restriction in 2010. High school students could also wear the hijab a year later.

Five years ago, police and military officers were allowed to wear headscarves while on duty, which was the strictest level of the restriction.


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