1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Reform in Turkey

Ayhan Simsek / cdSeptember 17, 2013

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s democratic reform package for Turkey has raised the hopes of supporters and even opponents. Some feel the plan is meant only to elicit EU approval. That could still be a good thing.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wearing a black suit speaks into a microphone in front of a red Turksish flag. Photo: Attila Kisbendek
Image: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

The pro-government Yeni Safak and Sabah newspapers have already dubbed the reform program as Turkey's "Second Silent Revolution." The government's plan aims to broaden religious freedoms, expand freedom of expression and strengthen the rights of Kurds, Alevis and non-Muslim minorities.

"Our comprehensive work will be the continuation of our major democratic reforms in the last decade," said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay.

The phrase "Second Silent Revolution" is a reference to a book called "Silent Revolution" recently published by the Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security, a department within the Ministry of the Interior. In it, Atalay's conservative-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) dubbed the political transformation of Turkey - under AKP rule since 2002 - a "silent revolution."

The new democratic reforms package will include major steps toward ending nearly three decades of internal Turkish-Kurdish conflicts that have claimed some 40,000 lives, a softening of anti-terrorism laws, the legalization of the public use of Kurdish words and names as well as the introduction of public services in Kurdish.

Standing in front of a blown-up headshot of a man of Middle Eastern descent, a half-dozen people speak on stage.
Pro-Kurdish politicians read jailed Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan's message in March 2013Image: Getty Images/AFP

Kurdish skepticism

Despite the AKP government's reform plans, Kurdish deputies like Hasip Kaplan of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) are skeptical.

"Our party has submitted a 25-point plan for a solution," Kaplan posted to Twitter on Sunday. "But so far we have not seen a reliable, promising approach from the AKP government…. There is nothing addressing the Gezi protests [or] measures against disproportionate use of force by the police."

Election thresholds also remain contentious. The government is not planning to change the 10-percent threshold for political parties hoping to enter the Turkish parliament. The AKP largely benefits from the current threshold system, with Kurdish candidates only entering parliament as independents. The BDP wants the election threshold to be decreased to 3 percent.

"Apparently this reform package only aims at softening the European Union's criticism of Turkey in its Progress Report 2013," Kaplan said, referring to a key report by the European Commission to be published on October 23.

That report will determine whether or not EU member states will reopen discussions on Turkey's troubled EU accession attempts.

A park with a stone walkway and grass lawns and a dozen or so trees.
Gezi Park in Istanbul has been at the heart of an ongoing anti-government protest movement since May 2013Image: picture alliance/abaca

EU's role

Still, some see good reason to feel optimistic about the package.

"It will be progress for Turkey, toward a better democracy," said Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi, the Brussels-based international coordinator of the influential Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD). Still, Kaleagasi says, the reform package should be comprehensive and inclusive.

"All the citizens and segments of Turkish society should feel that, with this democratization package, they will have more freedom, democracy - a much better Turkey," he told DW.

Removing restrictions on the wearing of Islamic headscarves by women in public services is another long-awaited change that will come as part of the reforms - one which is likely to appease the conservative electorate ahead of local and presidential elections next year. Boosting the rights of the Alevi citizens is another part of the plan, with Cemevi - a place of worship - to be given legal status. The reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary on an island near Istanbul is among the other key reforms mentioned in the reports.

The EU expects the Turkish government to make progress in four areas in particular, Kaleagasi says: Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, basic rights and freedoms, Kurdish issues and media freedom.

While Kaleagasi said that the Turkish government is showing less interest in reforms since the country's EU membership process entered a stalemate in 2007, the EU, he feels, can still play a more constructive role in improving democratic standards in Turkey.

"It is in EU's best interest to have a Turkey with advanced democracy," he said. "It is in European citizens' best interest."