And You Thought Our Congress Was Bad?

First, I want to clarify that my title does not I imply I think the U.S. Congress is “better” than the Turkish Parliament. They represent different styles of government as I will explain and have their own pros and cons. But, yesterday something happened in the Turkish Parliament that hasn’t happened in the United States since the Brooks-Sumner Affair in 1856.


In recent weeks, there has been harsh debate about the AKP Party’s education reform bill. As explained to me by Mustafa, the current systems compels Turkish kids to go through 8 years of government education (which does not include an religious schooling). The AKP has proposed a new plan called 4, 4, 4 (maybe the borrowed the  idea from herman Cain’s 9,9,9?). Under the new law, Turkish kids are required to be educated for 12 years but this time it is broken into three 4 year segments. During the first four years, government school education is mandatory. But there is more flexibility in the second two where a kid can attend vocational classes or be homeschooled. While appearing to liberalize the education system, critics charge that options such as home schooling will increase child labor and undermine the education of young girls. AKP officials respond that standardized tests will monitor the progress made at home.

For the last couple of weeks the parliament has debated this bill. Yet the AKP Party has such a strong advantage over their rival Republican People’s Party (CHP) that they finally pressed the issue (AKP has 327 out of 550 and CHP has 135). The parliament was scheduled to vote yesterday but AKP representatives showed up early and filled most of the seats. When CHP officials arrived, they could not even get in the door as AKP Chairman Nabi Avci started the proceeding. Infuriated, CHP leaders started pushing and kicking in their attempt to enter. Apparently, Avci carried on with the process and within 30 minutes the bill had been passed as the brawl continued. For a more accurate recount of the story check out this article

Anyway, I cornered Mustafa and sought his opinion about the issue. I was more interested in what he thought of the brawl so we saved the debate about what home-schooling means in Turkey for later (apparently most Turks see it as a loophole for religious education). He at first told me that he voted for the CHP in the last election even though he doesn’t necessarily agree with all of their policies. He believes that the AKP has too much power and that they have held that power for too long. A series of controversial actions like this one have led many to warn of a looming dictatorship led by Erdogan and the AKP. He noted that 60% of Turkey is religious and the AKP is the only mainstream Islamist party (even though they are very moderate for the region). Therefore, he thinks the CHP doesn’t have a shot at dethroning the AKP in 2014. This worries him.

I listened with curiosity as he explained how the Parliament system works in Turkey. The people vote for a party whose leader becomes the Prime Minister. But the President of Turkey is elected independently although his role seems to be solely commander-in-chief. I couldn’t help but think of our Founding Fathers’ great fear of the tyranny of the majority and I explained how the U.S. legislative branch was designed to encourage compromise. We then talked about the pros and cons (i.e. how Turkey can implement large scale changes like the European Union reforms and the U.S. Congress can become gridlocked at times). But Turks believe that the people give power to one party to run the government not individual elected representatives. This structure has allowed Turkey to modernize quickly but it might not be the most sustainable model for democracy. It did make me appreciate how influential the idea of tyranny of the majority has been in our political system and that Congress should remember compromise is needed to govern effectively.

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