Turkey’s ruling party yesterday unveiled the first of many reform packages designed to usher the country toward a new era of liberalisation.
The long-anticipated democratisation package is a salve for the wounds that appeared during the protests that spread across Turkey earlier in the year, which saw Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan garner condemnation from almost every quarter over his heavy handed tactics which saw tear gas employed against peaceful protestors.
This week’s news is a ray of light for Turks, who have always prided themselves on their liberal, educated attitudes, and for foreign investors, many of whom have been waiting on the sidelines after the stormy summer.
What does the package say?
The reforms include important overtures to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, who make up 20 per cent of the population. An overhaul of the electoral system will mean that Kurdish minority parties have a greater chance of having a parliamentary voice. Kurdish parties will be able to campaign in their own language. Private schools will be able to teach the Kurdish language, and Kurdish towns will be able to revert back to their Kurdish names instead of the Turkish names they were forced to adopt.
Peace talks between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish government will continue, with the aim to finding a peaceful resolution to a devastating armed conflict that has seen the loss of 40,000 lives over 30 years. A ceasefire earlier this year was also a promising start.
One of the most controversial laws in Turkey has been overturned, allowing women to wear headscarves in public offices and positions, with the exception of the military and police. This point is particularly important as it represents a huge shift toward greater democratic rights.
The headscarf ban dates back decades and has prevented many women from joining the workforce. Low levels of female employment in Turkey has long been regarded as an economic weakness, so Erdogan is addressing two issues here.
The reforms are certainly welcome after this year’s bad feeling surrounding the Taksim Square protests. Turkey’s ruling party AKP has not only been fielding accusations of thuggery and authoritarianism, but also allegations of trying to turn the secular country into an Islamic power. The democratisation package represents a sea change; a return to Turkey’s liberal values.
Prime Minister Erdogan said the reforms represented a “fundamental and historic phase” of Turkey’s progress toward democracy. He said his ruling party has been working on the reforms since it came to power 11 years ago, and more can be expected.
Ripples ahead for the Turkish economy and real estate
“The democratisation package also will open a new horizon in Turkey’s economy, much as it has in all areas,” Erdogan said yesterday. “Because democracy and the economy go hand in hand, you cannot have one ahead and one behind or you collapse the country. These have to go hand in hand.”
Property consultant and Turkish resident Cameron Deggin agrees, explains how increasing democratisation will result in a stronger economy.
“Turkey’s always been something of a melting pot - lots of nationalities living together largely in harmony. In some ways Turkey is more like a continent than a country. What we’re seeing with this package is a genuine attempt to redress some of the injustices that have emerged over the years, and I think this is hugely positive.
“The Kurdish conflict has long been an issue for Turkey, both politically and strategically, with the conflict deterring some foreign investors while the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] was at its most active. The recent ceasefire and withdrawal and the continuation of the peace talks is not only a good move towards harmony but a step toward economic growth.”
Deggin says that while the way Erdogan dealt with the protests that spilled out from Istanbul all across the country was “shocking”, it looked like the Prime Minister was finally listening to Turkey’s citizens. “The Gezi Park protests were a catalyst to change. Turks have always been fairly outspoken and when they see injustice they really start shouting. While Erdogan’s response to the protesters was unnecessary and over the top, it does look like the AKP paid attention.”
Deggin says that Turkey has always had a strong liberal voice, and not just confined to the larger cities, but within the coastal regions, where artists, intellectuals and political dissidents tended to flock.
“A strong reputation as a liberal democracy will boost Turkey’s profile and open the doors for foreign investment,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a property boom, with a huge amount of interest in affordable coastal property in Turkey. With liberalisation and economic development hand in glove, the property market is going from strength to strength.”
Currently, Turkey’s national income is over one trillion lira (170 billion USD) and climbing, well ahead of Denmark, Poland, Norway, Greece and Portugal. This testifies to the strength of the country’s growing economy. A number of economic development projects scheduled over the next 50 years testify to the fact that Turkey’s growth isn’t a flash in the pan, but a sustainable sign of long-term growth.
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