Turkish News Folder, 5 March 2012

CHP President Kilicdaroglu: “Lift my immunity!”

Turkey’s AKP dominated courts added another injustice to their current record by sending a deposition to the Grand assembly to have CHP leader Kilicdaroglu’s immunity lifted.  His crime?  Embezzlement? Political patronage? Influence peddling?  Bid fixing?  No, these are crimes for which a good portion of sitting AKP deputies is wanted in various Turkish courts.  Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s crime is calling the Silivri Correctional Facility, where 8 MP are detained a “concentration camp”.

“Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has reiterated his challenge to prosecutors, calling for an end to his immunity as a request for his trial was sent to Parliament by the Justice Ministry.

“The main objective of this move is to appease me and restrict my freedom of speech. But they will not be able to succeed. I did and I will say what I say. I’m calling on the Parliament speaker, Parliament’s General Assembly and the related commission members to lift my immunity. My file contains no corruption. Lift my immunity and let me account for my thoughts,” Kilicdaroglu said in a written statement.”

The public prosecutor in Istanbul’s Silivri district Jan. 9 requested the revocation of the main opposition leader’s parliamentary immunity so he can face charges of “attempting to influence a fair trial” and “insulting public servants on duty.” The prosecutor sent an official notice to the Justice Ministry to initiate the process of filing a case against Kilicdaroglu. The next day Kilicdaroglu and all of the CHP deputies in Parliament applied for the abolition of their judicial immunity in protest of the probe attempt.

The file against Kilicdaroglu was based on comments he made after a Nov. 9, 2011, visit to two jailed CHP deputies at Silivri Prison, where suspects in the Ergenekon coup case are being held. Kilicdaroglu likened the prison to a “concentration camp” and said he could not bear to call members of the court “judges.”

“They call this democracy and justice. Can you call him a judge, a judge who does not act with his conscience?” Kilicdaroglu said. He also described the judicial system inTurkey as “under the control of the political authority.

The prosecutor’s office acted on Kilicdaroglu’s remarks and prepared a two-fold indictment against him, charging him with “attempting to influence a fair trial” and “insulting members of the court.”

Before the CHP chief could stand trial, the Parliament speaker must send a petition to revoke his judicial immunity to the General Assembly, and the majority of lawmakers must vote in favor of the revocation. Aside from Kilicdaroglu’s, a total of 622 official petitions demanding the revocation of 79 other legislators’ immunity from prosecution are pending at the Parliament Speaker’s Office ([1]).

Erdogan continues to intimidate the opposition by frivolous lawsuits

InTurkey, criticism of the Erdogan government or many of the religious orders that back it earns one prison, as journalists Mr. Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, as well as several dozens of others have learned to their expenses.  A lesser but equally effective means of stifling the opposition is the frequent lawsuits launched by PM Erdogan. He is one his way to become one of the richest parliamentarians in history thanks to the penalties collected from hapless cartoonists, journalists and now perhaps even Mr. Kilicdaroglu.

“A court case has been filed against Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu following a complaint filed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has accused the CHP leader of defamation of character.

Erdogan is seeking TL 100,000 in compensation from the CHP leader. The prime minister’s anger stems from a speech Kilicdaroglu made at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Feb. 21. The complaint was filed on the grounds that the speech was insulting to Erdogan’s person and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Kilicdaroglu is being accused of having attacked Erdogan’s dignity in the speech, where he accused him of being a “thief.” The petition to file charges against Kilicdaroglu also lists “gang master, emotionally disturbed, separatist, immoral and stupid” as used to refer to the prime minister, which, the complainant claims, is misinforming to the public and were said in a demagogic manner.

Kilicdaroglu’s remarks clearly aim to degrade, belittle and insult the prime minister, according to the petition. “This language is on a level going beyond the border of criticism,” the petition read”([2]).

The really entertaining part of this story is that Mr. Erdogan himself introduced insults and invectives to the Turkish political discourse.  His call to a poor farmer complaining of hunger “Take your Momma and get out of this country” or to drinkers of alcoholic beverages “Drink till you choke” are national idioms nowadays.

CHP will resist the so-called education reform

CHP leader Kilicdaroglu met with over 30 experts and academics in pedagogical studies to discuss the impact of the AKP’s proposed “education reform”.  After receiving advice from the leaders in the discipline, CHP is resolute to oppose the bill.  First, let’s hear what independent observers say about this “reform”:

Turkeyfaces numerous domestic challenges, but reforming the country’s out-of-date education system is without a doubt one of the most significant ones. No matter how you slice it,Turkey’s performance in the field of education leaves much to be desired. Guven Sak, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News and head of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), laid outTurkey’s education woes in a recent piece:

Let me split the problem into three components. First,Turkeyhas a young population. The average age is still around 28.5. That is a good thing. With that much potential,Turkey’s European convergence should have been through education and training. Neither the European Union nor our government had the wisdom to design the process accordingly. Secondly, our population has only 6.5 years of schooling on average.Turkeyhas the youngest population with the poorest education performance among the top 20 economies in the world. That bodes ill for our future. We have a population of middle school dropouts. On top of that, OECD PISA tests show that our students’ academic skills leave much to be desired. Our kids are among the worst around the block, which any decent economist will tell you, puts us straight into the middle income trap. Thirdly,Turkey’s female labor force participation ratio is the lowest, even among Muslim majority countries. Only one among four women participates in the workforce. Why? Because of low educational attainment.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has recently introduced draft legislation that would reform Turkey’s educational system, most significantly increasing the level of mandatory schooling from eight years to 12 years. But the proposed legislation is being heavily criticized, accused of making the situation worse rather than better, particularly in terms of getting students to stay in school longer. As Nicole Pope points out in Today’s Zaman, the proposed new structure of the Turkish education system could open the door for students being put on a vocational track (i.e. apprenticed) at the tender age of 11. Writes Pope:

While stating its goal to increase compulsory education to 12 years, the government plans to divide this period into three four-year segments: primary, middle and high school levels. The debate centers on the middle segment, which would be carved out of the current eight years of primary. More than the division itself, it is how the government intends these four years to be used that has proved controversial.

Government officials claim more flexible options, including vocational training, are needed at this level. There is plenty to be said in favor of a well-regulated system of apprenticeship and vocational training at a later stage, but children should not be forced on such a path as early as 11. And even manual workers these days need a solid foundation of general knowledge to compete in the global market, something they couldn’t possibly gain in only four years of primary school. As the ERG, one ofTurkey’s leading education organizations, lowering the age for apprenticeship to 11 might even violate international rules on child labor.

The proposed reform also offers students the option to opt out of the school environment and turn to “open education.” Home schooling is, as we know, offered in many developed countries, often in strictly regulated conditions. But the practice remains controversial almost everywhere because it deprives children of the very important socialization experience that school attendance provides. This function of the school system is particularly important to helpTurkeynarrow its wide gender gap. If women are to become more involved at all levels in society, young children of both genders have to learn to interact from a young age.

But even more concerning, critics say, is what the draft bill might mean for girls’ education. According to the proposed legislation, parents would be allowed to home school their children after they’ve completed their first four years of school. The worry is that will open the door for parents, particularly in rural and conservative parts ofTurkey, to keep their daughters from going to school. As Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink writes on her blog, some people are calling the draft bill the “Come on Girls, Be a Bride” law — a play on “Come on Girls, Go to School,” the name of a government campaign designed to end the disparity in boys and girls enrollment in Turkish schools. The proposed law, Geerdink writes:

….means that girls will have a shorter school career. Now, compulsory education lasts eight years, starting at age 7. The AKP has managed to increase the number of girls enrolling in school, but not necessarily the number of girls graduating from primary education: there are many drop-outs. Girls are needed at home, or there is not enough money to send them to school, or they need to contribute to the family income. Or it’s about time they got married, or at least prepared for it.

What will the effect be of a new school system that makes it very easy to stop sending your girl to school after she has completed the first block, at age 11? It gives parents a logical moment to reconsider their choice of sending their daughters to school or not. When their daughters are eleven years old, they will have to choose whether or not to enroll them in the second block. In the current system, there is no such opportunity before the eight years of compulsory education are finished. Result: girls will drop out earlier ([3]).”

Some foreign commentators went even in further in their bashing of the education reform bill, calling it “incremental Islamism”,

“Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is personally committed to a more decidedly Islamist ideology than has been typical ofTurkeyas a whole. And now, changes in government policy indicate thatTurkeymay be taking incremental steps away from so-called secularism toward becoming an overtly religious state.

According to a February 24 story forANSAmed,Turkey’s Prime Minister is pushing for “reforms” in the nation’s school system that would reduce the required amount of formal schooling inTurkey, while simultaneously increasing the prominence of Koranic schools:

The goals of an education reform bill introduced by the Islamic party ofTurkey’s Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been characterized by opposition parties as aiming to halve the length of compulsory schooling to promote more Koranic schools and veil wearing. The opposition secular press, trades unionists and other commentators, have for a month now, but especially over the past two days, been aiming their criticisms at the Islamic tendencies of the reforms of alleged faults in the country’s education system.

As noted in the ANSAmed article, the educational “reform” would reduce the required years of formal education from eight years to a mere four years of school. At the same time, Islamic schools would be promoted:

A reduction in the number of years of compulsory education would also promote the so-called ”Imam Hatip Lisesi”, the religious Islamic schools, like the one in which Mr. Erdogan was educated. Following its third electoral victory in succession, with nearly 50% of votes cast, Erdogan’s single-party pro-Islamic government has already abolished the minimum age requirement for attendance at such schools and this reform would encourage children to give up attending their secular secondary schools in favor of religious institutions which now would take over some of the functions of the grammar schools.…

The move is seen as being linked to the increasing pressure on young girls in country areas to give up their schooling and the dangers deriving from a reduction of the age for starting an apprenticeship to eleven”([4]).

Erdogan playing the old blame-game to deflect criticism of education bill

For the record, CHP has never criticized the education bill on these speculative grounds, but Mr. Erdogan was quick to claim the cloak of the “victim” suffering at the hands of the “atheist” CHP.

“Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said yesterday the party would work on changing the perception it was anti-religion, a perception he claimed was created by the ruling party as propaganda.

“For years, the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] and similar parties made efforts to spread the perception that CHP is ‘against religion’ and they carried out propaganda inAnatolia. But we will break this. The CHP respects the beliefs and values of all,” Kilicdaroglu said. Cementing his victory over intra-party opposition last week, Kilicdaroglu elaborated on his new roadmap in an interview with Radikal daily, recalling the headscarf issue in universities was resolved with the approval of CHP. He emphasized that CHP was not against religious beliefs.

In a heated debate, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously accused the CHP of being annoyed by the existence of the imam-hatip religious schools and suggested the main opposition aspired for “a less-religious generation.”

In further remarks on the issue after a visit to journalist Doğan Yurdakul, who will undergo minor heart surgery this week after his release from prison, Kilicdaroglu said the CHP “respects people’s beliefs and we are against exploitation of religion for political gain. Sometimes the AKP mentions this perception, and it saddens us. Such discourse is not suitable for the development of Turkish democracy ([5]).”

Reiterating CHP’s determination to oppose the so-called reform, Kilicdaroglu told the academics and pedagogicians he met on Sunday:

“No parent wants his/her child to receive inferior education. We need to review what the rest of the world is doing to improve their education systems.  Ours has deep flaws.

The problems of our system starts with the teachers, therefore no reform is likely to produce positive results.Finlandleads in all education performance categories. We need to ask ourselves, the Minister of Education needs to ask himself why Finnish kids are so successful and ours aren’t.    Are our children less intelligent?  By no means, the biggest obstacle to their performance is a political system that is accustomed to pervert the debate on education towards its narrow objectives.

Look at how AKP initiated this “reform”. There is nothing about the new structure in the government program. There is nothing about it in the recently published Ministry of Education Strategic Plan. How come educational reform is dropped on us so suddenly with no public debate and input from participants?  This is what we are here to discuss” ([6]).

CHP worried about the political manipulation of the process for a new constitution

Even though PM Erdogan is deceptively coy about it, entireTurkeyknows his desire to become president in 2014.  That’s not his sole ambition.  He also wants a “strong presidency” a la Putin and Chavez.  The constitutional reform process launched by the common will of the four parties represented in the parliament runs the risk of being hijacked by PM Erdogan’s endless desire for more power.

“Members of opposition parties that are represented in the Constitutional Conciliation Commission have openly begun speaking of the possibility of the government imposing the contents of the new constitution. This worry has also gained currency in the headquarters of opposition parties. “Lack of confidence” in the government is elaborated as thus:

“The Justice and Development Party (AKP) turned its back on all suggestions brought forth during efforts to frame a new constitution through reconciliation and imposed the amendment on parliamentary by-laws to quash opposition speeches. Their draft proposal to enact the transition to 12 years of mandatory education marked the second such occasion where the government forced its will. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the suggestion put forward by the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD,) which he deemed as unacceptable. The government’s attitude which rejects all outside suggestions and participation at an arm’s length is serving to broaden the clouds of doubt hanging over the framing of the new constitution.”

Among the figures who have openly voiced this concern was Deputy Atilla Kart of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“The prime minister targeted a non-governmental organization (TUSIAD) that has expressed its opinion over the fundamental issue of education in a manner that nearly amounted to a threat. This approach presents the greatest obstacle before the writing of the new constitution in a healthy manner that is free from a climate of fear and repression,” Kart said.

The opposition is worried that the AKP could put forward a surprise suggestion to implement a “presidential or a semi-presidential system.” And thus follows their forecast:

“Erdogan either wants a presidential or a semi-presidential system. He could try to impose this at the last moment by using the writing of the constitution as an opportunity. Even if the opposition objects to it, he can get the people to approve his wish by forcing a referendum, as he did on Sept. 12, 2011([7]).”

About CHP EU Representation

The CHP was founded on 9 September 1923, about one and half month before the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey. The first President of modern Turkey’s oldest party was M. Kemal Atatürk. Today CHP is a social-democratic party, member of the Socialist International and associate member of the Socialist Group at the European Parliament. The scope of the CHP bureau in Brussels is not limited to the bilateral framework of Turkey's EU accession process. Issues such as the information society, energy policies, social development, climate change, international trade and security are among the different focus areas. The EU-Turkey relations are about integration and need multiple, plural and horizontal channels of communication. The CHP supports and promotes Turkey's EU membership process also by being more present and active in Brussels The CHP's Representative to the EU is Ms Kader Sevinç who previously worked as an MEP advisor at the European Parliament and in the private sector.
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