We like packages not democracy, we like processes not reforms
The headlines of the pro-government Turkish newspapers were almost the same on Tuesday: “Sept. 30 Revolution,” “Erdoğan’s Revolution,” “A new era,” “High-standard for democracy,” “20 steps for the New Turkey,” “Welcome Freedom,” “Like a revolution,” “Ankara criteria” and so on.
Anti-government newspapers, however, received the package from a totally different angle: “Sheik Tayyip’s Package,” “Democracy, you wait,” “Backward package,” “Package of betrayal opened” and the like.
Contrary to these differing views, this package is neither a revolution nor a betrayal. It’s rather a small step taken in the direction of expanding the right to education in Kurdish; of liberating those who wear the headscarf in public offices except for the army, the police and the judiciary; of opening a debate on the election system; all of which form the three most important elements of the package.
Allowing Kurdish education in non-state schools is an important improvement but obviously unsatisfactory for Kurds who were asking for the right to be educated in their mother tongue in state schools. “This is another sort of discrimination,” said Gültan Kışanak, co-chairwoman of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), “poor Kurdish families will not be able to enroll their children in these private schools. Education, like health, is among a government’s fundamental responsibilities. They should expand this right to state schools as well.”
To put it briefly, on the Kurdish front, the package is not aiming at overcoming an ongoing stalemate regarding the Kurdish resolution process. Alevis are fully disappointed as the package only changes the title of a university with the name of a leading, historical Alevi figure, Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli.
Among other reforms the package also brings about a prison sentence against those who “prevent someone from performing their religious duties.” In an obvious attempt to please the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters, the package does also stipulate new sentences against those who intervene in people’s lifestyles with the intention of imposing their own belief/s, either by threating or by use of force. In addition, the government also has increased the prison sentence for hate crimes from one year to three years, in an attempt to fight against discrimination as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday that punishments for hate crimes, particularly those committed based on religion, nationality or ethnicity would become tougher.
As one can see, the primary target of this package is the conservative roots of the AKP. While on one hand, the package is trying to please pious segments of society by way of permitting the use of the headscarf in public offices, on the other, it is letting Kurds and Alevis know that “there’s more to come later.” That makes Kışanak’s analysis that this was not a package of democracy but of elections accurate.
To sum up, we will hear more about packages and processes in the course of the elections. It’s always good for the government to buy time with these delaying tactics, given the fact that we like talking about packages more than democracy and talking about enduring processes more than reforms.