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Women and the Kurds: Key issues in Turkey's elections

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-06-10

As Turkish voters prepare to head to the polls on Sunday, takes a look at the main stakes in an election that is widely expected to further solidify the parliamentary control of current Prime Minister Erdogan’s centre-right AKP.

The Turkish elections, which will take place on Sunday, have not generated much suspense. The ruling centre-right Justice and Development (AKP) party, led by current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is widely expected to win its third straight term decisively (recent polls have predicted roughly 45 percent). The party has controlled parliament since 2002.

But Erdogan has become an increasingly divisive figure, and surveys show the centre-left Republican People's Party (the main opposition party), boosted by new leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, likely to snag 30 percent of the vote – an improvement on its 20 percent in the previous election.

Moreover, the campaign has become increasingly volatile, with police using tear gas and batons to crack down on anti-government protesters in Ankara this week.

The main questions now concern the margin of victory the AKP will secure, and what effect this will have on the agenda Erdogan wishes to pursue.

If the leader’s party scores a large majority of parliamentary seats, he will be able to move forward with an overhaul of Turkey’s constitution and a slew of social reforms that have worried secular segments of the Turkish population. Other issues, such as the Kurdish conflict, are also controversial electoral issues.

Here’s a look at the principal matters at stake.

The economy

According to Dr. Fiona Adamson of The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Erdogan and his party are in a “strong position” where the economy is concerned.

Turkey’s economy was undergoing a severe recession when Erdogan entered office in 2002, but the average income has almost doubled during his time in power and Turkey’s economy was the second fastest-growing in the world in 2010 (after China). Erdogan has also been successful in lowering inflation and public debt.

Erdogan’s solid economic record is nevertheless tarnished by a high unemployment rate (12% or more) and continuing socioeconomic inequalities in Turkey, Adamson noted. Still, economic policies are unlikely to change significantly under another AKP-led government.

The constitution

Turkish politicians across the political spectrum have argued that Turkey should adopt a new constitution to replace the version in use now, which was written after a 1980 coup.

Erdogan has hinted that he would alter the constitution to concentrate Turkish executive power in a presidency -- a political configuration that would resemble France’s, for example (as opposed to the current Turkish political system, in which the prime minister, and not the president, is the head of the government).

If Erdogan gets 330 out of 550 parliamentary seats, he will have to submit his changes to the constitution for a referendum and also get final approval from other political parties.

But if he secures a supermajority (367 seats), Erdogan’s party can essentially rewrite the constitution on its own, with no obligation to collaborate with other parties or seek public approval.

Social policies

Though the AKP has been credited with passing reforms giving women greater freedoms in Turkey, Erdogan recently announced that his party would consider getting rid of the ministry for women and has said that all women should have three children.

Those remarks, along with increasingly tight restrictions on Internet use and alcohol consumption, have alarmed Turkey’s more secular, pro-European urban voters.

According to Adamson, there is concern among this segment of the Turkish population that another round of Erdogan-led government will bring with it a “deepening role of religion in Turkey”.

Of equal concern to Erdogan’s opponents is the treatment of journalists and vocal critics of his government. Dozens of journalists are currently in prison in Turkey, and Erdogan is known to approve of sometimes brutal police crackdowns on street demonstrations.

The Kurdish question

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its rebellion in the southeast is more than ever an electoral issue ahead of Sunday’s vote, as Kurdish nationalists have become more vocal in demanding their autonomy and a solution to their 26-year insurgency.

The main opposition party (the centre-left Republican People Party) has made some gestures to Kurdish regions by mentioning the possibility of greater autonomy – but the party generally doesn’t get many votes in these parts of the country.

Erdogan himself has implemented reforms that have expanded freedoms for the Kurdish, who make up a significant voting bloc in the southeast; these include partial amnesty offered to some Kurdish political prisoners and restoring Kurdish-language city names that had previously replaced with Turkish ones.

According to Adamson, those overtures were likely made to bolster Turkey’s much-debated bid to join the EU -- and also to appeal to the Kurdish electorate in hopes of stealing votes away from Kurdish parties and the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), a Socialist party that boasts Kurdish interests as part of their platform.

Kurdish-backed candidates are expected to come away from these elections with 30 parliamentary seats – an improvement from their current 20.

Date created : 2011-06-10


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