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July 11, 2012, Wednesday

What about a second time zone?

Decentralization will be one of the toughest issues in Turkey’s transformation, which will last many more years before normalization.

There is not even a Turkish equivalent for the concept. The concept has equivalents in the Western languages used by experts, like decentralization, devolution and de-concentration. The plain meaning of the Arabic idiom (adem-i merkeziyet) is “centerless.” Terms such as “regionalism” or “regionalization” raise deadly fears among Turkish state officials. However, Turkey needs decentralization administratively and politically.

There is no other country with this dimension that does have a sole yet efficient center of administration. In other words, power sharing is not only a political issue; it is also necessary for good governance. It is not always possible to satisfy citizens’ needs in Ağrı as well as in Edirne through a single directive drafted by an Ankara bureaucrat. But the centralization is so strong that even the current government, which has grown out of local administration experience, seemed to adopt the same centralism once at the nexus of power.

Turkey has had an increasingly centralized administration since the early 19th century, starting with the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, the first “enlightened despot.” It is no coincidence that his reforms were borrowed from France, the most centralized country in Europe. The reaffirmed control of the center over Ottoman territories by reliance on the European style of government was engineered to suppress centrifugal tendencies that developed during the 18th century. This trend is so strong that the last time decentralization was debated was during the opposition raised by Prince Sabahaddin to the ultra-centralist Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government. Our state of mind has been shaped by centralization rather than decentralization.

Thus, the notion of decentralization is advancing at a snail’s pace in political discourse.  Let me discuss the issue in relation to three political matters: the drafting of the constitution, the prime minister’s ambition to initiate a presidential system and the draft daylight bill.

I believe the issue of decentralization has not yet come to the table in the drafting of the new constitution, and most probably it never will. However, the issue has been included in constitutional proposals submitted by many nongovernmental entities. The omission is due as much to academic and institutional lacunae as to Kurdish demands for autonomy.

When the issue of a presidential system was recently raised, a parallel was drawn between the system and the resolution of the Kurdish conflict. Some argued that a presidential system could be a better option if it were introduced along with a decentralized mechanism, using the federal states of the American presidential system as a model. However, it is a fact that the pro-presidential voices within the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are totally opposed to that system. In Turkish politics there is no appreciation of the role played by provinces, states and regions as autonomous administrative units in the system of checks and balances.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız has been opposed to the practice of daylight saving time for a while. Energy savings can be made by making the most of the light during the day. This is good in a country like Turkey, where energy is routinely wasted. This is also good news to those who have been suffering from this practice. But there are different analyses on the matter; some studies argue that daylight saving contributes to energy reduction, whereas others disagree.

Finally the minister came up with a draft bill, which has now been referred to the Cabinet. The only public information on the subject has come from his statements, as access to the text of the draft is denied. According to available information from the minister, the longitude crossing Doğubayazıt in Ağrı province will become the unique time reference for Turkey (GMT+3). Turkish Airlines (THY), the Directorate of Religious Affairs and the İstanbul Stock Exchange have apparently expressed support for the change. Media reports suggest that textile producers in İstanbul and pro-Western ultra-secularists are opposed to it as they see Turkey drifting away from the West.

Whenever the issue of maximum use of daylight comes to the fore, the only solution that is not considered in hyper-centralized Turkey is the time zone. However, with a second time zone one might make better use of the daylight. The time difference between eastern and western Turkey is one hour and 16 minutes. Because of the sole time zone, no one really benefits fully from daylight. An extreme example of this kind of thinking can be seen in China. Although its huge territories should be divided into five different time zones, the hyper-centralist communist administration has imposed the Beijing time zone on the nation as a whole since 1949. While people start work at 8 a.m. in Beijing, people in Urumqi have to get up in the middle of the night to start work.

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