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Democratization from Above: Erdoğan’s Democracy Package

Democratization from Above: Erdoğan’s Democracy Package

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This policy brief examines the Turkish government's recent democratization proposals.
This policy brief examines the Turkish government's recent democratization proposals.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Oct 22, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The democracypackage that Prime Minister
Erdoğan introduced with
fanfare on September 30 failedto meet expectations. The
package contains around 20items, including revisions in theelectoral system, changes in laws
pertaining to political parties,
improvement of guarantees of individual liberties, increased
penalties on hate crimes, and
concessions, either of substanceor symbolic value, to ethnicand religious minorities. Butoutside of those constituencieswith particular concerns, the
package has generated mixed
reactions. It is unclear that such
democratization is possible
without incorporating Turkish civil
society and other political partiesinto the process.
Democratization from Above: Erdoğan’s
Democracy Package
by İlter Turan
October 22, 2013
Washington, DC • Berlin • ParisBrussels • Belgrade •
AnkaraBucharest • Warsaw • Tunis
In the world o business, when anew product is to be introduced tothe market, the selective inorma-tion released to the public to arouseinterest is called a teaser. easersabounded prior to the “promulga-tion” by Prime Minister Recep ayyipErdoğan o his government’s Democ-racy Package. Newspapers speculatedthat it would contain this or that item,while cabinet ministers signaled thatit would contain elements o surprise.Expectations ran high. Te packagethat Erdoğan introduced with anareon September 30, which had beenprepared by a small group o ministers,ailed to meet expectations. It will beremembered as much by what it ailedto include as by what it does.It was known or a long time that ademocracy package would be parto the Kurdish opening. Te govern-ment lost time trying to calculate theoutcomes o specic measures thatmight be included in the package,prompting the Kurdish Peace andDemocracy Party (BDP) and the PKKoperating rom Qandil mountain inNorthern Iraq to say that time wasrunning out and imply that terrormight resume. Although the primeminister probably judged that theprevailing period o calm had createdan atmosphere in which a return to violence would nd little support, heknew that he had to deliver on hispromise to maintain credibility andcontinue with the process.Te package contains around 20 items,including revisions in the electoralsystem, changes in laws pertainingto political parties, improvement o guarantees o individual liberties,increased penalties on hate crimes,and concessions, either o substanceor symbolic value, to ethnic andreligious minorities. In the electorallaws, there is currently a 10 percentnational electoral threshold that the1980-1983 military intervention hadintroduced to reduce ragmentationo the party system. Te provisionavored large parties. Te governmentnow oers to change it. Tis thresholdmay be reduced to 5 percent, withelectoral districts downsized to vedeputies each and results determinedby proportional representation. Orit may be replaced by single memberconstituencies, the winner determinedby a plurality o the vote. Critics haveargued that these alternatives willcontinue to avor large parties.Regarding political parties, the currentlaw requires a party to have local
A curious change is allowing political parties to have co-presidents...Speculation has
emerged that the change is mainlyintended to render the AKP ready
for a future contingency.
branches in over hal o the provinces, then over one thirdo the sub-provinces in those provinces and in at leastthree municipalities in the same sub-province to partici-pate in elections. Te requirement to have local branchesbelow sub-province will be dropped. Te percentageo the national vote a party has to receive to qualiy orstate unding will be reduced rom 7 to 3 percent. Finally,parties will be allowed to have co-presidents, a practice notcurrently in the laws.Tese changes, taken together, appear to acilitate theparticipation o the ethnically Kurdish BDP, which hasencountered diculties in national elections because o  various systemic hurdles against small parties. Te BDP hadactually devised a strategy to overcome them by running itscandidates as independents and the winners then orming aparliamentary party. Although this strategy deprived BDPo state unds, it assured it o parliamentary representation.So, while the BDP may welcome many o these changes,until the current national electoral threshold is lowered, itis unlikely to consider these measures useul or its urtherelectoral prosperity.A curious change is allowing political parties to haveco-presidents. Tis was a BDP practice lacking a legal basisbut ignored by the government. Recently, however, specu-lation has emerged that the change is mainly intended torender the AKP ready or a uture contingency. urkey willhave presidential elections in the summer o 2014 in whichErdoğan is expected to run. It is also known that PresidentAbdullah Gül, eligible or a second term, would like toremain in politics. I Erdoğan insists on running or presi-dent, competition between two men rom the same politicallineage may be avoided by their swapping jobs. Co-presi-dency might serve two purposes. First, the prime minister,traditionally the head o his party, has to be a membero parliament. I Gül is to become the prime minister, hewould have to await 2015 national elections beore he canhold the job. But, he could certainly be his party’s co-pres-ident. Second, it is predicted that i Erdoğan is electedpresident, he will try to run the government, transcendingthe mainly symbolic powers o the oce. o maintain hisinuence over his party, he might try to overcome legallimitations by installing a loyalist as party co-president and,through him, exercise leverage to “persuade” the new primeminister to accede to his preerences.Te expansion o individual liberties mainly includesbroadening ethnic and religious protections. On the ethnicront, responding to Kurdish concerns, the use o languagesother than urkish in campaigns will be decriminalized. Itwill also become possible to open private schools where themedium o instruction is not urkish. As regards changespertaining to religious liberties, those who interere withthe perormance o religious rites or with liestyles derivingrom thought or belie will be penalized. Te restrictionson collecting charitable contributions (meaning the legalmonopoly o the urkish Aerial Society to collect the skinso sacrice animals) will also be repealed. Women in publicservice jobs will be allowed to cover their heads except inthe police, military, and the judiciary. Te historic AssyrianChurch will get back some land around a monastery previ-ously conscated by the state.Tere is also the introduction o restrictions and penaltiesagainst the use and dissemination o private inormationon individuals in order to prevent their being deamed.Te routing and the location o public marches and rallieswill now be planned by public authorities in consultationwith those who are to hold them, but it will no longer benecessary to have an interior ministry ocial monitor theevent. Finally, anyone qualiying as a voter will be able to join a party, making it possible or almost all public ocialsto acquire partisan aliation, which many observers ndproblematic in the urkish context.urning to discrimination and hate crimes, an Anti-Discrimination and Equality Board will be established
The government does have
the majority to enact ordinary
legislation, but transforming promises into bills and then lawsrequires time. The country is going rst into local, then presidentialelections within a matter of several months.
to monitor violations, while penalties or crimes o hate(needing more specic denition) will be increased. Tispoint has piqued curiosity regarding whether groups otherthan believers in monotheistic religions such as atheists orGL persons will also be covered under the planned change.Ten there is a list o symbolic concessions to Kurds onrestrictions, such as decriminalizing the use o the lettersx,w, and q (which are part o the Kurdish alphabet),allowing towns and villages that have been given urkishnames to reassume their historic names, and abolishing thepledge o allegiance that glories urkishness in primary schools. Gestures to other groups include changing thename o Nevşehir University to Hacı Bektaşı Veli University to honor the minority Muslim Alevi population and theopening o an Institute o Roma studies to accord recogni-tion to the Roma o urkey.Te prime minister has said that this is just the beginningo more reorms, recognizing that these proposals may notbe considered sucient by various segments o the popula-tion. Te Alevi population has expressed rustration thatnothing o substance has been oered to them, such asunding or their religious establishment, a acility that thestate extends to the Sunni population through the Direc-torate o Religious Aairs. Te Greek Orthodox Churchwas unpleasantly surprised that the Khalki Seminary thatwas closed 40 years ago will not be opened unless Greeceextends some new acilities to its urco-Islamic population.Te Kurdish leadership has indicated that while the movesare in the right direction, they hardly go ar enough to meettheir expectations.Outside o those constituencies with particular concerns,the package has generated mixed reactions. Te EU, whichthe urkish government takes less and less into consider-ation in devising policies, has responded avorably, as hasthe United States. Domestically, the nationalistic MHP hassaid that the package is a sellout to the Kurds. Te majoropposition CHP has ound many o the measures lessprogressive than the bills that they have introduced, whichthe government has ignored. Te secularist segments o the population see some o the measures as simply openingthe way or more religion in public lie. Tose who werepart o the Gezi demonstrations seem unimpressed. Teirsuspicions are in act being borne out by announcement o government plans to increase powers o the police. In short,the package appears unlikely to deuse the intensiyingpolarization toward which the country has been moving.Can the government deliver on its current promises andmove quickly to produce other packages? Tere are anumber o impediments. o begin with, the governmenthas excluded the opposition rom the process. Tis meansthat any item requiring constitutional change would notbe possible because o a lack o a qualied majority. Tegovernment does have the majority to enact ordinary legislation, but transorming promises into bills and thenlaws requires time. Te country is going rst into local, thenpresidential elections within a matter o several months. Anattempt by the prime minister to rush legislation throughwithout much debate may produce dissatisaction in hisown party i they have been excluded rom preparation o the package. Te easiest procedure may be to aect thosechanges that can be achieved by a government decision.Tis has already begun to happen.Tere is no doubt that urkish political system, classi-ed as a partial democracy by Freedom House, is in greatneed o urther democratization. It is unclear that suchdemocratization is possible without incorporating urkishcivil society and other political parties into the process.Democratization rom above by non-participatory means

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