Democratization package and the way ahead

Democratization package and the way ahead

There were some symbolic moments in the 2000s reflecting Turkey’s democratization which I call “revolutionary mementos.” The extensive reform package announced yesterday by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will certainly be inscribed in our memories as a revolutionary memento.

The first term of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government between 2002 and 2007 constituted the first wave of democratization embracing profound economic, social, political and cultural transformations. Then we witnessed the second wave starting with the referendum on Sept. 12, 2010, which not only brought along a series of constitutional amendments, but also boosted the AKP’s share of the vote in the 2012 elections. During this whole process, the AKP has reduced the military influence in politics and increased the civilian influence in security. 

The Ergenekon court case, despite its serious shortcomings, has also radically altered the civil-military equilibrium in Turkey, reducing the likelihood of military intervention in politics and readjusting the balance in favor of civilians. Most importantly, the AKP commenced the peace process on the Kurdish question and took the initiative of holding talks with the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. 

Yesterday’s democratization package certainly instigated the third wave. Its ramifications will be seen in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres of life and in wider segments of the society, including among ethnic and religious minorities. The package does include huge steps such as allowing private education in other languages, lifting restrictions on the attire of public officials which will enable female officials to wear headscarves, increasing the penalties for hate crimes and easing the regulations on rallies and demonstrations to increase freedom of assembly. In addition, Erdoğan announced that they are opening up the discussion on three alternatives to the current electoral threshold of 10% which does prejudice Kurdish parties.

These are, undoubtedly, revolutionary steps which we have all been waiting and dreaming for many decades. Yet, this should only be considered as a “memento” in a long, ongoing, dynamic process as Prime Minister Erdoğan himself has also repeated several times. The package was expected to give more autonomy to local municipalities in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, to give Cemevis, the Alawi places of worship, a legal status and put their religious leaders on the government payroll and to reopen the Heybeliada Ecumenical Seminary. These are steps to be taken at the soonest time possible. 

Turkey also still needs a new Constitution replacing the current one left over from the 1980 coup which would remove ethnic references and reformulate the concept of citizenship based on equality. Only this would secure the continuation of the democratization trend. 

However, in order to realize this, the opposition parties should embrace this process and abandon their strategies based on preserving the anti-democratic articles of the current Constitution.
Bipartisanship would enable the government to continue its democratization efforts without electoral concerns. Second, the transformation in Turkey’s security system has not been fundamental enough. Turkey is still in the process of transforming itself from a “national security state” to a “post-modern state” and falls short of “post-modernizing” its military paradigm. The subordination of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry, the transition to a professional army, ending of conscription and the civilian oversight of the Armed Forces are some of the necessary steps to be taken. 

Revolutions are processes first of creative destruction and secondly of destructive creation, as Schumpeter says. The phase of “creative destruction” is already over. Now “destructive creation” is ahead of us. You must have noticed that the emphasis is now on creation rather than destruction, which requires the inclusion of all segments of the society.

The piece published on this page this morning was the version Written prior to the announcement of the reform package. The updated version has just been put above. We apologize for the incovenience.