Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced major political reforms, including new Kurdish rights and a reversal of the headscarf ban, the BBC reports.. He has proposed lowering the 10% electoral threshold, which currently prevents Kurdish and other smaller parties from entering parliament. He says towns will be allowed to take Kurdish rather than Turkish names. He also plans to end the ban on women wearing headscarves in public service – a longstanding goal of his party.
The ban has been one of the most contentious laws in Turkey – pitting supporters of Turkey’s secular constitution against those who favour Islamic rights. Mr Erdogan and his governing AK Party have been accused of rolling back the secular state and trying to promote Islamic values. The headscarf ban will be removed for public servants, but remains for judges, prosecutors, police officers and members of the armed forces. “This is a historic moment, an important stage,” Mr Erdogan said.
The reforms are a long-awaited move to improve the rights of Turkey’s Kurds, who are thought to make up about 20% of the population. They are seen as a vital part of efforts to end the three-decade conflict between the government and Kurdish rebels, which has cost more than 40,000 lives. he Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) armed rebel group recently suspended its withdrawal from Turkey, which was a measure agreed with the government, because of a perceived failure by the government to make political concessions to the Kurds.
Mr Erdogan said the law under which only parties which get 10% of the national vote can take up parliamentary seats could be replaced by a 5% threshold, or even abolished completely. The law has in the past prevented the main Kurdish party, Peace and Democracy (BDP), from campaigning for parliament – though its members have often run as independents and clubbed together as MPs. Mr Erdogan also said teaching in Kurdish – and other non-Turkish languages – will be allowed in non-state schools. And he said towns would be allowed officially to take their native-language names. This is thought likely to lead to the Turkish-named city of Tunceli being given its Kurdish name, Dersim.
Other measures in the “democratisation package” included: