Turkey: A country for old men

Turkey: A country for old men

Turkish politicians love to praise the country for its young population and say they want to see more women getting involved in politics, but when it comes to nominations for key posts, there are not many places for young people or women.

The three names officially announced to run for the Speaker of Parliament post, to be decided on June 30, are the latest example of this fact.

The three parties that announced their preference for the next speaker yesterday all picked male candidates aged 70-plus, despite growing complaints among the public about the “old guard” of Turkish politics.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) will support Deniz Baykal, a 77-year-old former party leader. Baykal has been enjoying a comeback on the political scene after keeping a low profile for five years in the wake of a sex scandal that cost him the CHP chairmanship in May 2010.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will back Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, a 72-year-old academic who was the CHP and MHP’s joint presidential candidate against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the presidential election last August. The advanced age of the former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who held the post from 2004 to 2014, was also a subject of debate in the campaign for the presidency, and he eventually lost in the first round - receiving far fewer votes than the combined support for the two parties.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has the largest number of female lawmakers and is a champion of gender equality in Turkish politics, thanks to its co-chairmanship system. The party also has the youngest group of lawmakers (with an average age of 46.5), while its co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ, 44, and Selahattin Demirtaş, 42, are the youngest party leaders in parliament. It even has four lawmakers under the age of 30.
However, the HDP has decided to nominate the party’s oldest lawmaker, 72-year-old Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, for the Speaker of Parliament post. It probably hopes that the experienced politician will be able to find some support among conservative Kurdish lawmakers in the Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which he was a founder. 

According to official figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), Turkey has a population of approximately 77.7 million as of Dec. 31, 2014. While women make up 49.8 percent of the country’s population, they won 89 seats in the June 7 general election, according to the numbers published on parliament’s official website. 

That number is a record high for Turkish women in the Turkish Republic’s 92-year history, but they still make up only 16.2 percent of the total 550 lawmakers.

The official data also show that 64.3 percent of Turkey’s population is under the age of 40, with 24 percent of the total between the ages of 25 and 40 (25 is the minimum age requirement to be elected to parliament).

But there are only nine lawmakers in parliament under the age of 30, with the MHP having none and the CHP having only one.

President Erdoğan was 47 years old when he was elected as the leader of the AKP in 2001, and 49 when he first became the prime minister. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu came to the stage at a later age, taking over the post from Erdoğan at the age of 55.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is 67 years old, while MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, who has been the nationalist party’s leader since 1997, is five months older than the social democrat politician Kılıçdaroğlu. 

The late Süleyman Demirel was 41 when he first became prime minister in 1965, and he was 76 years old when his presidential term ended in 2000. 

The late Bülent Ecevit became prime minister three times, first in 1974 when he was 49. He was 77 when he left the prime minister’s post for the last time in 2002.

Turgut Özal was elected prime minister at the age of 56 in 1983, and he died while he was still the country’s president 10 years later.

In its 92 years of history, Turkey has seen only one female prime minister, with Tansu Çiller holding the post from 1993 to 1996 (she was elected at the age of 47). It has still yet to have its first female Speaker of Parliament.

Indeed, Turkey is a great country for male politicians, especially if you have no intention of retiring “just because” you are old.