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March 28, 2011, Monday

Why not have headscarved deputies?

Various issues are dominating the country’s political agenda ahead of the upcoming elections, slated for June 12.

New waves of operations carried out as part of the ongoing investigation into the alleged pro-coup Ergenekon group as well as recently intensified debates on how Turkey’s new constitution should be are among the top agenda items. But deputy candidate lists, soon to be announced by political parties, are also a matter of curiosity in many respects.

One major expectation of the public with regards to this year’s elections is seeing headscarved deputies in Parliament to replace the country’s bitter memories of the issue with positive ones. The staunchly secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been approaching the issue with contradictory remarks by top party administrators but it has made it clear that it will not nominate a covered deputy. Now, all eyes have been turned to other political parties, mainly the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Bugün daily columnist Ahmet Taşgetiren, who has long been calling on political parties to nominate headscarved deputies in elections, says the case of Merve Kavakçı, who was thrown out of Parliament amid protests against her headscarf in 1999, turned the issue of a headscarved deputy in Parliament into a Gordian knot, but believes that many things have changed since then. However, he is disappointed to see the political parties being reluctant to have a headscarved candidate.

“Most recently, a government figure, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, said, ‘I want the election of a headscarved deputy in principle, but I am not sure the time has come for that.’ These remarks were interpreted as the AK Party’s unwillingness to nominate a headscarved deputy. Yes, it is 2011 and we are still discussing whether millions of people in Turkey are eligible to enter Parliament with their own style of dress. What can be said? Turkey should get rid of this shame and ask, ‘If not now, when?’” he says.

Yeni Şafak’s Hilal Kaplan, who is among a group of women who recently launched an initiative demanding the election of headscarved deputies in the elections, says the campaign has received positive reactions from various circles, but complains that even some conservative circles in the country have failed to support the initiative. Stating that there are press organs who accuse the women taking part in the campaign of having personal interests, she says there are even accusations that they were laying a trap for the AK Party. “We once again understood why we failed to have a Rosa Parks in our struggle for headscarf freedom thanks to this campaign,” she says, expressing her disappointment.

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