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Turkey and TRNC – parallel processes

16 June 2013

The past 18 days have seen remarkable events occurring in Turkey. Gezi Park, a small green space in Istanbul, unheard of by many of us, is now known across the world.

Stemming from an initial protest by environmentalists against Prime Minister Erdogan’s proposal to use the park as a site for a new shopping mall and a re-construction of the Ottoman military barracks which were demolished in the 1940’s by Kemal Attaturk; the protests were inflamed by the over-enthusiastic use of tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets by the police to break up a peaceful sit-in.

Since then, protests have spread across the country. Moderates galvanised by the heavy-handed response by the police and ultimately the government have become politicised. Spear-headed by the Taksim Square movement, unrest continues as more secular-minded citizens voice their opposition to an already paternalistic prime minister becoming more dictatorial as weeks pass by. Edicts such as have more children and declaring ayran as the national drink when it is in fact raki, plus the curbing of the sale of alcohol have affronted adult-minded people who feel that they should be free to make their own life choices.

An interesting parallel process is underway in the the TRNC. Not only protests in support of the Gezi park protesters but an earlier move by Dr Ahmet Kasif who challenged the validity of the elections for leadership of the UBP, which he lost by a narrow margin in October 2012. He won the argument in court, which then set a new election date. However, in the second election, apparently his rival Irsen Kucuk won once again, by an even narrower margin. Latterly, a vote of no confidence in the government has seen Kucuk ousted and a female interim prime minister put in his place. An embittered Kucuk failed to appear at the handover ceremony.

Unconcerned by that fact, Mrs Sibel Siber and her cabinet have set about their tasks with vigour. She has promised transparency; to publish government income and expenditure. Mrs Siber also relieved a Turkish actor of his post of honorary cultural attaché to the TRNC. The post and TRNC citizenship was given by former prime minister Kucuk in short order. Mrs Sibel said that the appointment had been inappropriate. She also withdrew the rentals of land in Karoglanoglu to a private business company which had benefited from knock-down rates, saying that this was state-owned land. The whispers were that this generous move by the UBP was made in order to buy votes ahead of the forthcoming elections in July.

If the winds of change hold steady, then the TRNC might see better management from the top down. Free and transparent elections, accountability and less opportunity for lining of pockets would be a welcome relief for most of its citizens.

In the meanwhile, Turkey, which has been taking awkward steps towards a more democratic society, is still a work in progress.

Veering from Kemalist secularism and the rule of the military to a more moderate Islamist governance, it is now teetering on the edge of despotism, Turkey’s route to democracy is not a straight one. It is in its adolescent stage, veering from one extreme to the other. Hopefully, the pendulum will end somewhere in the middle.

For whatever happens in that country, will filter through to the TRNC. These are interesting times indeed, for both Turkey and North Cyprus.

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