Turkey’s recent elections are seen as a democratic model for other countries in the Middle East. But as Daphne McCurdy discusses, a recent crisis between the judiciary and a Kurdish political figure highlights lingering institutional and legal challenges that must be addressed.   

As the struggle for democracy in the Arab world turns bloodier, and the outcome more precarious, Turkey’s free and fair parliamentary elections on June 12th provided a burst of optimism for the region. With the elections resulting in a more inclusive and balanced parliament just as this body was set to write a new constitution for the country, Turkey appeared one step closer to becoming a genuine model for the rest of the Middle East. But just two weeks after the election, a new crisis emerged in the form of a standoff between the country’s judiciary and a leading Kurdish political figure that underscores how Turkey’s path forward is still blocked by one of its oldest problems: the government’s reluctance to accommodate the legitimate demands of its Kurdish minority.  Already the clash has sparked significant upheaval and threatens to undermine efforts at consolidating democracy in the country. At the same time, it highlights many of the hurdles Turkey’s leaders must overcome in the process of reforming the constitution.

On June 21, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) of Turkey voted unanimously to bar a renowned Kurdish activist and lawyer, Hatip Dicle, from assuming his parliamentary seat. Dicle had run as an independent backed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which won an unprecedented 36 seats in the parliament. Just days before the election, Dicle lost an appeal to overturn a conviction for spreading “terrorist propaganda” over remarks he made in 2007 supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) right to defend itself against operations by the Turkish military. Under Turkish law, no one convicted of a terrorism-related charge can enter parliament. However, given the timing of the court decision, the latest YSK decision was marred in controversy.

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