Kurdish presence in Parliament may prompt reform or sore tempers

Sunday's election saw victory for some 23 candidates loyal to a Kurdish nationalist platform, well over the 10-member requirement to win the privileges of a parliamentary group.

 Kurdish presence in Parliament may prompt reform or sore tempers
It's a modern myth that the Chinese written word for crisis consists of a combination of the characters for "danger" and "opportunity," so while it may not be a Chinese-style crisis, it is certainly the new conventional wisdom in Turkish politics that a new bloc of independent Kurdish MPs represents both a chance to resolve one of the country's long-standing problems but also the risk of igniting dangerous nationalist passions.

Sunday's election saw victory for some 23 candidates loyal to a Kurdish nationalist platform, well over the 10-member requirement to win the privileges of a parliamentary group. They stood as independent to overcome the 10 percent threshold a party needs to win nationally in order to qualify for seats in Parliament. The new MPs will now be able to represent the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which holds many key municipalities in the Kurdish Southeast of the country.

Sunday also saw the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) win 71 seats in the assembly. During the campaign the party was bellicose in demanding military action to punish radical Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) separatists based in northern Iraq. The party refuses to recognize a "Kurdish problem" in Turkey, defined in terms of cultural and human rights.

Instead its sees the issue as a problem of combating terror and eliminating the environment in which Kurdish nationalist demands are bred.

One of the key demands of the new DTP deputies will be an amnesty for those imprisoned for having links to the PKK and for a way of returning those living outside the law to return to a normal life. One of the newly elected pro-Kurdish MPs is herself awaiting trial for being a member of the banned organization. Sebahat Tuncel will now be released from jail under the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by MPs to represent the third electoral district of İstanbul.

The MHP rejects the notion of any such pardon. One of its campaign posters mocked what it called the "flat plain-ers," those who think you can deal with terrorism by luring young people off the mountains. However, given the party's generally mediocre performance in the election, winning just over 14 percent of the national vote, they may feel reluctant to turn the floor of the National Assembly itself into a battleground.

The DTP-affiliated MPs will also be scrutinized for their willingness to compromise. Memories are still are fresh of Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana attempting to swear her parliamentary oath in Kurdish wearing a Kurdish tricolor headband. She along with fellow MPs was imprisoned for 10 years. Ms. Zana, while not a candidate because of her penal record, has campaigned for fellow independents and raised eyebrows in a pre-election speech with calls not just for an amnesty but some form of political autonomy for the Kurdish region.

One force for moderation will be the knowledge that although they did well at the election, their total vote was nearly half the 6.2 percent which a predecessor Kurdish party scored in 2002. This part is explained by the technical difficulties that independents face in getting the electorate to stamp their ballots correctly but also the headway that the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made in the Kurdish region.

Whereas independents gained as much as 60 percent of the vote in the small but Alevi province of Tunceli, the AK Party won six seats with 41 percent of the vote in the larger constituency of Diyarbakir, compared to independents, who gained four seats with an albeit larger (47 percent) poll.

The AK Party has proved itself acceptable partly for its ability to provide services, particularly in those municipalities it controls, but also for having the clout to stand up to demands to launch a major cross-border operation into northern Iraq. Many believe that such an operation would be ineffectual in containing the PKK but would also ignite violence within Turkey itself and poison relations with the people of the Kurdish Southeast.

The combined votes of new Kurdish MPs and the 340 seats that the AK Party enjoys are still short of the magic 367 votes needed to change the Constitution, but it is still probable that the new DTP bloc will pledge their support to the government's efforts for new reforms in exchange for progress on issues like Kurdish cultural rights. They may find the greatest obstacles are not within Parliament but inside a still powerful nationalist establishment well represented in the courts, the army and the bureaucracy.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Temmuz 2007, 10:27
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