Barely a day seems to pass these days without Uzbekistan’s President-elect Shavkat Mirziyoyev circulating a fresh initiative smacking of democratization.
The latest proposal from Mirziyoyev, who was elected with a Soviet-style 88 percent of the vote in the December 4 polls, is for regional governors and mayors to be elected directly by the public.
Mirziyoyev outlined his thoughts on the matter during an official event to mark the 24th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution in a speech that was televised in full on the evening of December 7. He cast the proposed reforms as a way to reconnect with the population.
“To defend the interests of the people, you must in the first place talk to the people, and better understand their concerns, aspirations, life problems and needs,” he told his audience. “During recent campaign encounters, I became convinced of one thing: We have late forgotten how to talk to the people. Holding meetings with people, talking to them honestly, listening to their problems has, unfortunately, slipped to the bottom.”
Under the late President Islam Karimov, only the head of state was authorized to appoint and remove governors and mayors. Traditionally, Karimov would travel to attend sessions of regional assemblies to fire and hire officials.
Mirziyoyev’s initiative is theoretically forward-looking, but as the non-competitive nature of this weekend’s presidential election demonstrated, the reality may fall short of expectations.
“Of course, the concept of electiveness sounds good, but to be honest I do not know and I do not understand how it would work in conditions where there is no [political] competition or freedom of speech,” political analyst Rafael Sattarov told EurasiaNet.org.
An intriguing report published on June 3 evaluates the ways in which think tanks influence public policy in nascent democracies.
The report, titled Democracy Think Tanks in Action: Translating Research into Policy in Young and Emerging Democracies, takes a look at case studies in nine countries around the world in which democratization has made strong gains over the past two decades. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in Turkey and the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) in Georgia are two of the nine think tanks examined.
The National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies is the publisher of the report, which draws on material supplied by members of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes.
“For the countries with more developed democratic systems, where the “rules of the game” are settled, democracy think tanks can play an important role in improving policies,” the report states. “In the weaker democratic settings, the challenge is steeper. Democracy think tanks in such countries can play a similarly important part in improving specific policies, but they have the additional challenge of helping enable more fundamental systemic reforms.”
Think tanks such as Tesev and CIPDD are good at coming up with ideas, but they still can use help in selling their policy prescriptions to incumbent authorities and/or the general public, the report suggests. “The accounts in this study demonstrate the value of independent think tanks that are able either to directly incorporate an advocacy component into their work, or otherwise partner with organizations that can help promote their analytical efforts.”
Human Rights Watch has just released its annual World Report and its chapter on Turkey contains some very strong criticism of Ankara's efforts at human rights reform. “Despite some moves for reform, the efforts have been patchy, incomplete, and the new human rights mechanisms are under government control and lack independence,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW's senior researcher in Turkey. “If the government is serious about its latest moves to address the Kurdish issue in Turkey, freeing the thousands of detained peaceful Kurdish political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and students would be a good first step,” she said. “Turkey needs to make human rights a priority in its approach to all of its citizens.”
In Turkey, the cross-party work on a new constitution during 2012 was a positive development, Human Rights Watch said. But tight government control of appointments to the national human rights institution created in March and the ombudsman office established in June undermined confidence in potentially important oversight mechanisms. There are serious concerns about how independent or effective either institution will be in practice.
Turkey’s restrictions on freedom of expression are evident both in its laws and in the pattern of prosecutions and convictions under these laws, Human Rights Watch said. Judicial reform packages passed by the parliament, most recently in June, suspended prosecutions and convictions for some speech offenses, amended penalties for various terrorism laws, and attempted to curb excessive detention on remand, but have not yet had a significant impact. Politicians’ intolerance of dissenting voices – extending as far as criticizing television soap operas – and their willingness to sue for defamation perpetuates a chilling climate for free speech.
Although it's still quite early to know which way Turkey's new peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will go, this week saw some very encouraging signs coming out of Ankara.
Late Thursday, the Turkish parliament passed legislation that will allow defendants to use Kurdish in court, a long-standing demand put forward by Kurdish activists and politicians. Up until now, Turkish courts have regularly refused to allow Kurdish defendants to use the language during proceedings.
Also yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffled his cabinet, most significantly replacing the hawkish Interior Minister Naim Sahin with Muammer Guler, a former governor of Istanbul who originally hails from southeast Turkey. Sahin, an old school nationalist, had managed to enrage Kurds on numerous occasions, especially in the wake of the 2011 Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurdish villagers were killed in an errant military operation. At the time, Sahin dismissed the killed villagers as "extras" in a PKK operation and said there was no need for Turkey to apologize for the incident.
Following today's burial in Turkey of the three Kurdish women activists murdered last week in Paris, Ankara's renewed peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, are facing a critical test.
There were some concerns that the funerals, which drew a massive crowd in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, could turn violent and become another provocative development which could jeopardize the nascent talks, but the event turned out to be peaceful in the end. Writing in the Hurriyet Daily News today, analyst Semih Idiz takes a look at the significance of both the murders in Paris and today's funerals:
The bottom line is that today’s developments, whether are positive or negative, will determine the course that the ongoing peace talks between the government and the PKK take, perhaps much more than the actual murders in Paris. Despite the horror of that event, a positive result has been that the government, the PKK leadership, and the BDP have all indicated views suggesting that this as a provocation aimed at derailing the current peace talks. This shows that there is a desire for these talks to continue.