Questions remain after controversial proposal is quashed

Questions remain after controversial proposal is quashed

The government has withdrawn its highly controversial proposal which amounted to giving amnesty to the statutory rapists of minors after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intervened to quash it. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ says the topic is closed and clearly wants the heated discussions it generated to end. 
In any true democracy, where accountability matters, a minister that endorsed such a bill and caused such a massive social outcry would have to resign. Turkey is not a country where such things happen. Government ministers usually feel they are the last person to blame in the event of a major social crisis or disaster that involves their portfolio. 

Under normal circumstances, the ruling party, which in this case happens to be the Justice and Development Party (AKP), would also have demanded the resignation of a minister that brought it ignominy and caused major political embarrassment for the country internationally.

Thanks to the legislative proposal which was clearly endorsed by Bozdağ, and also by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım – because it could not have come to parliament without their approval – Turkey has gone down internationally as a country that is trying to legalize child rape. 

Bozdağ insists that ill-intentioned people who hate the AKP have misinterpreted the aim of the proposed legislation on purpose. He says there are thousands of cases where the woman was a minor when she married, and where she and her “husband” can’t have their children registered because of the law on statutory rape. 

Bozdağ says all they wanted to do was to end the suffering of these “families,” and argues that their proposal did not mean amnesty would be given to rapists. The majority of people, including many AKP followers, and all the opposition parties in parliament, disagreed totally with his attempt to use euphemisms and present such a proposal as an innocent affair.

Most people saw through this attempt to declare amnesty for older men who were “given” young “brides” – allegedly in line with Islamic stipulations – while they were still minors, some as young as 12 or 13. Rather than declaring that there would be no statute of limitations for these crimes and working to prevent them, the AKP tried in effect to legitimize what amounts to rape.

Erdoğan eventually intervened on the grounds that this proposal did not meet with public favor. He most probably did so because he saw the debate moving in undesirable directions and considered the potential political damage to the AKP’s image. 

Those who wish to look at the matter from the part of the glass that is half-full could argue that Erdoğan’s intervention was a positive development, and a good example of the kind of interventions he will do to ease tensions in society as he increases his executive powers.

Those who look at it from the glass half-empty side, though, will continue to question whether Erdoğan would have refused to sign the bill if it had passed parliament and come to him for endorsement as president. 

What is also telling in this affair is that the AKP withdrew its proposal only after Erdoğan’s intervention. In other words, the outrage of women’s groups, the calls from human rights and child welfare groups, the interventions from the West – which is hated by the AKP anyway – and even the call from the United Nations did not mean a thing.

The government would most likely have pushed its proposal though parliament regardless after introducing some cosmetic changes designed to appease critics from its own fold. It was only after Erdoğan intervened that it quashed the proposal. This also shows the kind of hold Erdoğan still has over the AKP as he pushes for the executive presidency he desires. 

But when one considers that we have a government that can even consider a proposal legitimizing rape, while there are so many serious problems it has to attend to, it is hard to believe that prospects for Turkey look good.