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New generation

June 8, 2011

While half of Turkey's population is less than 30 years old, candidates under that age only recently became eligible to stand for parliament. The legislature can expect some young blood after Sunday's election.

AKP candidate Mehmet Mus (in light jacket) and his team
Mus (center) hopes the young will reengage with politicsImage: DW

In the Istanbul district of Avcilar, the ruling AKP party is fielding a 29-year-old candidate named Mehmet Mus in Sunday's election, the first time that Turkish citizens under 30 have been able to stand for parliament.

His campaigners cut a colorful figure on the streets and come from a variety of backgrounds. While some of the young women wear coats and headscarves, others are in jeans with their hair uncovered. Some of the men wear suits, others wear jeans and T-shirts.

More than half of Turkey's population is younger than 30, with more than a third under 20 years of age.

However, only after a recent constitutional amendment has it become possible for candidates between the ages of 25 and 29 to stand for the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

The new rule comes into effect for the first time this Sunday, when Turkey goes to the polls to elect a new parliament. Activists across the political spectrum hope that the move will help to reconnect young people with the democratic process.

Zehra Altintas, leader of the AKP youth organization
Altintas is working to politicize Turkey's "apolitical" youthImage: DW

Local AKP youth chairwoman Zehra Altintas is eager to politicize the 200,000 people under the age of 30 who live in Avcilar.

"Young people in Turkey today are apolitical," said Altintas. "They have been ever since the 1980 military coup, after which they were purposely scared off politics and depoliticized. But we as the AKP youth organization are working to change that."

Ban on university politics lifted

Only since the democratic reforms of the last decade have Turkish university students again been allowed to join political parties.

Mus himself is not surprised at a recent poll finding that less than 15 percent of Turkish youth have faith in the current parliament.

"If we re-run that poll in a year's time, we should see that change. All parties are fielding young candidates now; there will certainly be a number of young deputies in the new parliament. I think this will promote young people's trust in parliament."

Unemployment is a major problem affecting the youth, and the issue informs many of the requests that Mus and his supporters hear on their campaign trail.

"I think the retirement age should be lowered, so young people have a better chance in the job market," 21-year-old Abdulrahman Eroglu told the canvassing team.

Education policy is another big concern for younger people, with the country's system of examinations for university entrance a topic of much recent controversy.

E-mail on a mobile telephone
Communication technology has helped Turkey's youth to identify their goalsImage: picture-alliance / maxppp

Technology provides a boost

After decades of watching their elders decide their fate, Turkey's youth hope to take part in shaping the future of the country. And Mus believes that new technology will help give them an added impetus.

"Thanks to the information revolution, we can see the world today, and that is why we have these goals. We want to have what the developed countries have for our country too. To be able to live like they do - that is what Turkey's youth wants."

Mostly though, Mus has found that the hopes and demands of young people in Turkey do not differ in substance from those of their elders.

"From what we've seen on the campaign trail, young people want a strong economy, better employment, livable cities and more democracy - those are the main demands of young people. Of course, older people may want the same things, but young people want them more urgently."

Author: Susanne Güsten, Istanbul / rc
Editor: Martin Kuebler