The politics of a polarized country

The politics of a polarized country

Actions speak louder than words. The Constitutional Reconciliation Commission in Ankara’s Parliament is still working. In principle, all of the four political parties are equally represented there. They are drafting the new constitution of the country. The new constitution was supposed to be the beacon of democracy and liberty in completing Turkey’s transformation process. Yet everybody in Ankara is acting as if there was no problem with the constitution process. Actions though, speak louder than words. The new democracy package says it all: Turkey’s transformation process does not look like it will come up with a new constitution any time soon. Democratization needs to wait. It’s the politics of a polarized country stuck in the mud. Let me tell you why.

The looming question in Ankara is obvious: After the new democratization package, are there any hopes for the two-year constitution drafting process that started in late 2011? I don’t think so. But before answering why, let me clarify the question. Is Turkey going to push for a once and for all, big bang type, democratization process, or will it still choose a step-by-step approach? So either the democratization process is an end in itself, good for Turkey’s regional ambitions, or it is another instrument of political bargaining, especially with the Kurds. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but that is where we are at the moment in Ankara. The new democracy package is now a barrier to a more swift democratization process through a new Constitutional period. But why?

Fully fledged democratization needs more time, as there are so many elections in the coming two years. First, we are going to have municipal elections in early 2014, then the first presidential election with direct public voting and thirdly a general election coming up in 2015. Elections mean no time for huge reforms. This is true for political and administrative reforms, as well as for structural economic reforms. A fully fledged democratization agenda means dealing with all the contentious issues of the country head-on. 

Let me give you an example of curriculums in mother tongues: Turks need to make a decision whether their country is going to be bilingual or not. The Kurdish Party BDP’s position is clear: “Turkey needs to become bilingual. If you do not want that, then a territory of the country boundaries to be determined by negotiations could become bilingual.” If the answer is no, the peace process will be in jeopardy. Bad for elections. If the answer is yes, as the issue has not been discussed before, it is again bad for elections. So this means that the process is stuck. Only promising that you are going to allow Kurdish curricula in private schools leaves the door ajar.

It is election season in Turkey. In terms of democratization, this is the time for half moves and half promises. No deliveries, please. Bad for elections. This is the season of democracy packages, not constitutional drafts and reforms. That is not good. But that, I suppose, is what a polarized country looks like. Just ask the Americans.