Turkey: Ruling party criticized over headscarves

AP News
Posted: Apr 12, 2011 10:47 AM
Turkey: Ruling party criticized over headscarves

Turkish activists pushing for more women in public office who wear headscarves criticized the ruling party Tuesday for only nominating one such candidate for June elections.

Turkey's secular rules bar Islamic dress in schools and government settings, but there is debate over whether they apply to parliament too. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to dodge the issue on Monday when he announced the list of candidates his party will be fielding for June 12 elections to the 550-member parliament.

Of the 78 women on he chose to nominate, only one wears a headscarf and she was placed near the bottom of the list, making her election only a distant possibility. Around a dozen Islamic headscarf-wearing women had applied to be candidates, while Islamic women's groups campaigned vigorously for their nomination.

Erdogan's wife and daughters all wear headscarves and his party has denounced secular laws restricting headscarves, but Erdogan appeared to be avoiding confrontation with Turkey's secular circles, including the military and the judiciary.

"The nomination was symbolic," journalist and political commentator Metehan Demir told the Associated Press. "The party wants to avoid a crisis. If it didn't, the candidate could easily have been placed at the top of the list."

In 1999, politician Merve Kavakci wore a headscarf, but was prevented from taking the oath and was thrown out of the assembly hall as lawmakers banged on desks and shouted "Get out!"

In 2008, Erdogan's party narrowly escaped being shut down by the Constitutional Court, which said it was violating Turkey's secular constitution, citing its failed attempt to lift a ban on Islamic attire at university campuses as evidence against the party.

Gultekin was second to last on Erdogan's 14-person list of candidates running from the Mediterranean province of Antalya, which is not a ruling party stronghold.

"A headscarf-wearing legislator was important to end the usurping of the rights of headscarf-wearing women," said Neslihan Akpinar Arikan, a spokeswoman for the "No Headscarf Candidate, No Votes" campaign. "The (ruling) party's nomination of a woman without the chance of election is not enough."

Fatma Bostan Unsal, a headscarf-clad founding member of Erdogan's party who had applied for nomination herself said: "The discrimination against women who wear the headscarf continues. It was (Erdogan's) party's duty to put an end to this injustice."

A separate women's group accused Ergodan and other party leaders of not nominating enough women _ whether they wear headscarves or not. Nine percent of the 550 lawmakers in parliament are women; two-thirds of the female legislators belong to the ruling party.

Erdogan made no mention of the headscarf issue while announcing his list of candidates.

The prime minister has signaled that he will deal with the headscarf issue after the election. He has promised his government will rewrite the Constitution to bring more freedoms, including the wearing of headscarves, if it wins a strong mandate.

Gultekin, a 37-year-old religious studies teacher, said she would campaign hard to be elected despite her poor chances of making it to parliament. She also told reporters Tuesday she removes her headscarf while teaching at school and was willing to remove it in parliament too, if she were to be elected.

Surveys show the ruling party is the front-runner ahead of the June 12 vote.