BDP’s decentralization proposal debated in Turkey


Hürriyet Daily News Turkey’s strong centralist structure could use some shaking up, many seem to agree, but the pro-Kurdish party’s call for decentralization is seen by its critics as a threat to national unity. Even those who support giving local administrations more financial and administrative autonomy say the BDP’s demands for 26 self-governing regions go too far
 Though the BDP’s call for 'democratic autonomy' has been  controversial, the party is not alone in suggesting more power be  granted to municipalities and local administrations. AA photo
Though the BDP’s call for ‘democratic autonomy’ has been controversial, the party is not alone in suggesting more power be granted to municipalities and local administrations. AA photo

Reshaping Turkey’s strong centralist structure, a key demand of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, has become a topic of hot debate, with different parties weighing in on what form such changes could, or should, take.
Though the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP’s, call for “democratic autonomy” – including the establishment of regional parliaments with their own flags and symbols – has been controversial, the party is not alone in suggesting more power be granted to municipalities and local administrations.
“We likewise support strengthening local administrations, but in an administrative and financial sense. We have passed seven laws in this respect,” Hüseyin Tanr?verdi, who is in charge of local administrations for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review late last week.
“The BDP wants political autonomy and bases its demands on the European charters. We’ve signed the charter, but the charter solely anticipates financial and administrative autonomy, not political [autonomy],” Tanr?verdi said.
Ak?n Birdal of the BDP told the Daily News that the party’s demands “are all outlined” in the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the European Charter of Regional Self-Government. The former was adopted in 1985 and has been ratified by 41 countries, including Turkey. The latter remains in draft form.
“There should be regional parliaments, which should be elected by the public and solve local problems in the [Southeast] region like Parliament does in Ankara,” Birdal said. “The municipalities remain insufficient to solve many local problems and most of their actions are subject to the permission of the central administration.”
What the BDP is proposing is similar to that found in a federated state model, according to Professor Hasan Fehim Üç???k, the dean of the law faculty at Do?u? University in Istanbul.
“The BDP’s proposed model can be found in federal states. In Germany, Bavaria, for instance, has its own flag. But Turkey is not a federal state,” he told the Daily News. “What the BDP demands is to bring a new model to Turkey, which is against the unitary structure of the country.”
Noting that “strengthening local administrations makes municipalities and special provincial administrations stronger,” Üç???k asked: “Does the BDP aim to make them stronger or want to transfer the state’s authority to a new formation in the region?”
The European model does not suit Turkey, according to Saffet Özdemir of the Turkish Association of Local Authorities. “The charters the BDP’s demands are based on have been developed in line with Europe’s socio-economic circumstances. Turkey has its own circumstances,” he said.
Özdemir agreed, however, that Turkey needs a stronger and more effective local administration law to counter the excessive influence of the central administration, including the governors, on local authorities’ actions.
“Municipalities should have administrative and financial autonomy. The taxes collected in Kars, for example, go to the central administration,” Özdemir said. “But any measures taken in this respect should not harm the unitary structure of the country. I am a Kurd as well, but I don’t support any claim that will harm Turkey.”
CHP, MHP views on decentralization

The BDP’s demand for decentralization has also been met with criticism from other opposition parties in the country.
Such a change would not be in line with Turkey’s structure, according to Suat Binici, a member of the local administrations committee of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. “The BDP has a goal: democratic autonomy,” he said. “Decentralization emerges as a way to achieve that goal.”
Bekir Aksoy of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, said the BDP’s demand would not create stronger local administrations but autonomy.
“The BDP wants a local government with its own flag,” he said. “Our perception of decentralization, on the other hand, implies strengthening the local administrations in an administrative and financial sense.”
Aksoy described his party’s vision as “allocating more funds from the general budget to municipalities and reducing the central administration’s power over the local administrations. Recent laws have reinforced this.”
The ruling AKP made several attempts to pass a comprehensive law regarding decentralization when it came to power in 2002 but has instead enacted small-scale laws over time that grant further authority to municipalities and local administrations.
In an August interview with the Daily News, BDP co-chair Gültan K??anak likewise said there was a need to transfer some authority, responsibility and financial resources to the country’s local governments. “Our project envisions the creation of 26 political and administrative regions, each with the democratic means to self-govern,” she said. “This model is not just for a certain part of the country, but for the entire country.”

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