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Reforms mark the dawn of new Turkish liberalisation

Turkey’s long-anticipated democratisation package was announced yesterday, heralding a new era of liberalisation for the country, which garnered international condemnation earlier in the year for its reaction to government protests.

Prime Minister Erdogan, TurkeyThe reforms make concessions to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which comprises 20 per cent of the population, and relaxes laws on headscarves in public offices. The reforms also pave the way to allowing children to be educated in their own languages in private schools, and open the doors to debate about Turkey’s often-criticised electoral system.

Erdogan said the reforms represented a “fundamental and historic phase” of Turkey’s march toward democracy. The package is just the starting point in a reform process that the Prime Minister claims his ruling party has been working towards since it came to power 11 years ago.

The package is also aiming to “stop bloodshed” in Turkey, after input from the families of fallen soldiers, the PM said.

Breakdown of the reforms

Electoral overhaul
Turkey’s election system will likely undergo a huge overhaul as part of the reforms, with the lowering of the 10 per cent nationwide election threshold and the implementation of a narrowed constituency system. This will allow smaller parties, such as Kurdish minority parties, to enter parliament.
- The government will allow campaigning in different languages for political parties.
- The ruling party has also proposed relaxing state funding rules for political parties, allowing the principal Kurdish party to receive finance.

Headscarf ban
- The headscarf ban for women in public offices is to be lifted, with the exception of uniformed roles such as military and police. The headscarf ban has long been a controversial law and many critics are heralding the reform as a big nod towards more democratic rights.

Minority rights
- Education in Kurdish is to be broadened, and towns permitted to use their Kurdish names, rather than the Turkish names.
- Abolition of the student pledge which forces students of every nationality to declare themselves “honest, hard-working Turks”.
End of Kurdish conflict
- The ongoing peace protest between the government and Kurdish rebels will continue with a view to finding a swift resolution. The three-decade conflict between the Kurds and the state has cost more than 40,000 lives.

After months of accusations of authoritarianism and heavy-handedness in Erdogan’s dealings with protesters, as well as allegations of promoting Islamic values, the reforms make welcome news in a country still recovering from a summer of unrest.

Analysts say the government’s proposals are “welcome” and “important to Turkey’s liberalisation,” especially where Kurdish rights are concerned. "I think that the importance of these reforms should not be understated. Now it is time to pressure the government, both in parliament and in civil society, to continue and move forward with Turkey's democratisation," said one commentator.

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