Headscarf ties AKP strategy in knots
ANKARA - Daily News Parliament Bureau | 3/17/2011 12:00:00 AM | GÖKSEL BOZKURT
Candidate applications filed by 20 headscarf-wearing women have split Turkey's ruling party on whether or not to support their bids for parliamentary seats.
Candidate applications filed by 20 headscarf-wearing women have split Turkey’s ruling party, with one faction supporting their bid for parliamentary seats and the other saying the time is not right for such a move.
Applicant Fatma Bostan Ünal, one of the founding members of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said she is seeking to be a candidate for Ankara because 65 percent of women in Turkey wear headscarves and they need to be represented in Parliament.
“As a founding member of the AKP, I found it right to take the first step to remedy this shame of democracy,” the headscarf-wearing Ünal told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
The issue first came on the agenda in 1999, when Merve Kavakçı was elected as the Virtue Party, or FP, deputy for Istanbul, but was prevented from taking the parliamentary oath due to her headscarf. It is unclear whether any of the 20 women, if they win a seat in the June 12 general elections, would be allowed to enter Parliament. Women are not allowed to wear headscarves while working or studying at state-run institutions, including public schools.
Some observers have speculated that the ruling party plans to nominate headscarf-wearing candidates from places where they have less of a chance to be elected, so as to avoid this dilemma altogether.
Asked in November if his party would have candidates wearing headscarves, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told daily Taraf, “Anything can happen in politics.”
AKP deputy leader Hüseyin Çelik told journalists Thursday, however, that such a thing was “not possible in today’s agenda.”
“There should be candidates wearing headscarves, but not now,” AKP deputy leader Bülent Arınç told Kanal Türk in early March.
Nearly 6,000 people have applied to run as candidates for the AKP in the general elections. Some 20 to 25 of them, mostly in Istanbul, Ankara, Şanlıurfa, Trabzon and Balıkesir, wear headscarves.
One claim making the rounds in Ankara is that the AKP approached Gülafer Yazıcıoğlu, the widow of Great Union Party, or BBP, leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, who died in a helicopter accident, to run for his seat as a way to bring a “covered” woman to Parliament. Her rejection of the proposal reportedly prompted the party brass to abandon the idea and send a message discouraging women’s branch leaders who wear headscarves from applying.
Supporters within the AKP of running candidates who wear headscarves point out that other parties are doing it, while opponents say other important issues on Turkey’s agenda would prevent such an initiative.
[HH] ‘All parts of society must be represented’
“Not having a candidate who wears a headscarf would be unfair,” daily Taraf writer Hilal Kaplan, who wrote a column this week titled “We want a deputy who wears a headscarf,” told the Daily News.
“If we live in a representative democracy, then all parts of society must be represented,” Kaplan said. “Parties must have candidates who wear headscarves. There are no legal obstacles to this.”
According to a recent public opinion survey on the controversial headscarf issue, 78 percent of people agreed with the statement that it is a woman’s choice to cover or not, while 15 percent said a woman must wear a headscarf and 6 percent said no one should wear a headscarf. Of those polled, 78 percent said a female deputy wearing a headscarf would be “normal.”
“These polls prove that the people have solved the issue; it is now the politicians’ turn to do so,” said Metropoll Research Center owner Professor Özer Sencer, whose firm conducted the survey on behalf of the Turkish Businesswomen’s Association, or TİKAD.
“The people are saying that it is pointless to continue the ban on headscarves,” Sencer told the Daily News. “Only 20 percent say no, and most of them support the opposition parties.”
Noting that the issue has been on the agenda since Kavakçı’s election in 1999, Sencer said it had to be resolved eventually.
The political movement that nominated Kavakçı included AKP deputy leader Arınç, who now says headscarf-wearing women should not be candidates now, said Ünsal. “Was it the right time then and today is not the right time? Is it so?” she asked. “This attitude is not sincere in terms of human rights and the rights to stand for election.”
[HH] Turkey’s first ‘covered’ deputy
Though Kavakçı was prevented from taking the parliamentary oath due to her headscarf, she identifies herself on her website as Turkey’s first “covered” deputy.
She was eventually stripped of her Turkish citizenship, and her deputy post, after it was revealed that she had obtained U.S. citizenship March 5, 1999, without informing Turkish officials.
In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Kavakçı's expulsion from the Turkish Parliament was a violation of human rights. The court sentenced Turkey to pay 4,000 euros to Kavakçı.
Kavakçı eventually regained her Turkish citizenship, and now lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as an international relations professor at George Washington University.