April 27, 2015 / 8:24 AM / 3 years ago

Turkey's top judge backs new constitution, calls for consensus

ANKARA (Reuters) - The newly appointed president of Turkey’s highest court said on Monday the country needed a new constitution and called on political parties to reach what has long proved an elusive consensus on the issue.

Turkey’s current constitution was born of a 1980 coup and, though revised, still bears the stamp of its military authors. Past efforts to agree a new text have failed amid disagreement over issues including shifting Turkey to a presidential system.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu this month put a new constitution at the heart of his AK Party’s manifesto for a June election, making clear he backed moving toward the executive presidency coveted by President Tayyip Erdogan.

A more powerful presidency akin to the U.S. or French systems has become Erdogan’s greatest ambition. Opposition parties also want a new constitution but fear an executive presidency would accumulate too much power in the hands of a leader with autocratic instincts.

“At the level of economic and political development that our country has reached, a new constitution emerges as an inevitable necessity,” constitutional court president Zuhtu Arslan said.

“In this new constitutional period, it might be necessary for (political) actors to revise their maximalist demands, and maybe even take a step back from their positions,” he said in his first major public speech, addressing court members as well as Erdogan and Davutoglu.

He did not mention the question of a presidential system.

Arslan’s election by court members in February was approved by Erdogan and Davutoglu’s government.

His predecessor, Hasim Kilic, clashed with Erdogan several times. He warned in February that the judiciary could become an “instrument of revenge” for politicians after government-backed candidates strengthened their grip on key courts.

Erdogan, who founded the AK Party in 2001 but had to step down as its leader when he won the presidency last August, has said he wants the AKP to win 400 seats in June, comfortably enough for the government to change the constitution unopposed.

But five pollsters have predicted the AKP’s share of the vote will drop by between 1 and 8 percentage points from the 49.8 percent it took in 2011, leaving it well short of 400 seats and potentially forcing it to seek coalition partners.

Davutoglu said at the weekend that he would hold 72 rallies before the June 7 vote in a bid to shore up support.

Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ercan Gurses; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Crispian Balmer

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