April 21, 2014

The slow moving wheel of democracy in Turkey and the future of women in politics

    Monday, April 21, 2014   No comments

By Sumeyye Pakdil
* see key below
Turkey has been occupied with a corruption scandal and the recent split between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a prominent religious figure who leads a worldwide Sunni movement named after him. Arguably, this split dates back to the government’s decision to close all school preparation programs (dershane) run by the Gulen movement. Then, by late 2013, when some corruption scandals involving members of the Erdogan cabinet surfaced, Erdogan looked at the Gulen movement as the source. Erdogan has accused Gulen and his movement as being politically and religiously treachery after the corruption scandals came on the Turkish political scene on December 17, 2013. While the local elections approached, the outcome of the elections would become so important for Erdogan to confirm his power and control over Turkey. Eventually, the local elections of March 2014 turned into a referendum to prove that whether Erdogan’s government would continue to rule the country and approve Erdogan’s leadership.

As respective leaders of a political party (Justice and Development Party, or AK Party) with an Islamic identity and of a group that is politically, religiously, and socially active in the world, Erdogan and Gulen used religious rhetoric during the campaign. Although Gulen claimed that he is not involved in politics, the media associated with the group declared that they would not support the ruling party. Moreover, the ‘Gulen media’ accused Erdogan and his party as being corrupted politically and religiously.
In the local elections of 2014, the AK Party lost some votes coming from the movement but not much. In the previous local elections in 2009, the AK Party received 39% of the total votes; in 2014, its vote share was 45%. This suggests that the AK Party, despite corruption allegations, showed that it is still the party of Turkey and is being supported by a majority of the people. This picture was also a result of the weakness of the opposition parties especially Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP), because of the lack of any projects to improve municipalities and solve their problems.
Women and women’s participation was another issue during the elections. As every country in the world, elections have a different meaning for women. Elections has been thought as a chance for women to involve in public life as subjects or actors. However, it has been debated for many decades whether to have a right to run in elections would change the status of women in society.
According to recent report by World Economic Forum, the status of women in society and politics is highly gender-biased and further constrained by religion, underscoring the need for a more research on the subject of women’s participation in public life, especially in the areas of economic development, healthcare and education and education policies (Economist, October 2013). The same report characterized Turkey as one of ‘the most notable outliers’ because of its imbalance between readiness to graduate from emerging market status and gender inequality.
Since 1930, Turkish women earned the rights to run in local elections. In 1934, Turkish women were able to be elected as members in the Turkish Parliament. However, the question is whether there has been a significant improvement in women’s representation in Turkish local politics since then. The answer for this question is not encouraging. Presently, there are four political parties in the parliament. Except for the Peace and Democracy Party (PDP), in the 2014 local elections all other parties (AK Party, CHP and MHP) fielded very low percentages in terms of women candidates. The PDP had a women quota, which selected women as chairman or co-chairman in 168 municipalities out of 224. The PDP has 23 mayors and 54 deputy mayors, whereas CHP has 7 and AK Party 6 women mayor, which amounts to the following figures:  AK Party 1.3%, CHP 4.55%, and MHP 2.7%.
This picture is not encouraging for women’s representation at local levels. In the meantime, it is important to remember that the political representation of women is a process of constructing an identity. More importantly, women representatives have significant roles to transform the knowledge in society.

*The colors show the density of women representatives after the 2014 local elections. The greens represent PDP’s women mayors and co-mayors, red for CHP and orange for AK Party. Source: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26138818.asp (April 7, 2014).


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