The royal edict of reform

The royal edict of reform

It is perhaps normal in polarized societies not to have gray areas. For some, the government’s “democratization” package was an empty one while for others it was not only up their expectations but was also somehow a sacrosanct text as if written with some divine inspiration.

What Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan read out Monday was very much like an imperial decree, outlining some generous democratization offers from the absolute ruler. Can there be a democratization package which was discussed, debated, decided by the absolute ruler and his gang of merry men, without sharing a word with the nation? Perhaps the text, probably in part, was shared with the life-term convict serving at the İmralı island prison, but the rest of the Turkish society was denied the right to have a word on it. The Ottomans had the famous Gülhane royal edict of reform; now we have Erdoğan’s royal edict of reform. This cannot be the way of undertaking democratic reforms.

Where is democratic behavior in that? Can a democratization package be unveiled at a press conference which only those press members appreciated by the absolute ruler were accredited to and the rest of the media, though fewer than before, barred?

Still, despite all its deficiencies, even the paragraph on the return of the property of Mor Gabriel Monastery of the Syriac [Assyrian] community of Turkey, deserves a standing applause.

In a country with strong feudal relations still persisting, particularly in the eastern and southeastern areas, to what purpose can the idea of taking down the electoral threshold from its current 10 percent to 5, but going either to a narrowed constituency system (with constituencies producing five deputies each) or to a narrow district system (each district producing one deputy) would serve? The alternative? Continuation of the current 10 percent threshold. If this is reform, then sorry, I would not buy it.

The main democratization problems of Turkey, however, even before the constitution, have been the elections and the political party’s legislations that convert party leaders into party tyrants, leaving the future of politicians at the sole discretion of leaders. Was there anything in this area in the package? No… The problem in Turkey was not just the restrictions in propaganda in Kurdish.

Tougher penalties for hate crime was one of the most promising elements that the package unveiled. Criminalizing discrimination with harsher penalties was a step in the right direction. Ending “discrimination” of veiled women in public offices – which in fact no longer exists – was a good development. Ending the morning chant of loyalty to Atatürk’s principles in primary schools was definitely a move to end a torturous practice particularly for the predominantly Kurdish areas.

But, why was there not a single sentence on the persistent discrimination against the Alevi Turks by the state and the Sunni scholars at the helms of the government? Why (excluding Mor Gabriel) was there not even one sentence on the sufferings of the non-Muslim religious minorities? For example, has the time not come to reopen the Halki Seminary? Are the Greek Orthodox minority members not our citizens?

What Erdoğan unveiled was not a “democratization” package but rather a “royal edict of reform,” the contents of which must be praised with awareness that it was very deficient.