Debates over Article 9 of the compulsory education bill, seeking to increase the duration of compulsory education from eight years to 12, started on Thursday. The ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) proposed article was approved amidst heated debates between the ruling and main opposition party. The proposal was approved by 306 out of 391 deputies.
According to the approved article, an elective course on the Islamic holy book the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad will be available at middle schools and high schools.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which had previously presented a proposal similar to the AK Party's proposal, supported the ruling party during discussions of the proposed article. However, the article caused outrage among the main opposition party.
During discussions, Republican People's Party (CHP) parliamentary group Chairman Muharrem İnce, who delivered a speech in Parliament, accused the AK Party of manipulating religion for political gains. He argued that the AK Party is seeking to gain votes by using religion in politics.
Another CHP deputy chairman, Engin Altay, said the AK Party and the MHP have violated the Constitution. “You are committing a crime against the constitution today,” he said addressing deputies from the two parties.
CHP Sivas deputy Malik Ejder Özdemir said the proposal runs contrary to the principle of secularism mentioned in the Constitution. “Today is a historic day, now they can say that they [AK Party and MHP] have abolished the republic and declared the caliphate again in Turkey,” he argued.
Speaking to the press about the article upon his return to Turkey late on Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized protests by the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) and the Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) against the bill on Thursday, in which police and demonstrators clashed. Police using high-pressure water cannons and teargas on protestors. Erdoğan said the proposed Quran course would be an elective, and thus not compulsory.
“Those who don't want to attend such courses are free not to attend them. We won't force KESK members or their children to attend these courses. Why are they reacting in such a way to the article then?” he asked. Erdoğan also thanked MHP deputies for their support during the open vote in Parliament.