On Sunday, the Turkish Parliament adopted a progressive reform bill -dubbed the "democratization package"- that introduces major amendments to the country's electoral laws and penal code. The bill represents the most concrete step that the government has taken since Prime MinisterRecep Tayyip Erdogan's official announcement on Sept. 30. While the reform package embarks on an ambitious legislative agenda, we must ask whether such a reform was indeed necessary and, if so, whether the government did enough.
To be clear, reform was necessary and, to be perfectly honest, long overdue. Although the amended electoral laws will allow political parties to use Kurdish and other languages in their elections campaigns, the current legislative effort -as anyone who has ever been to Kurdish provinces would know- merely acknowledges an ongoing practice. Same goes for the newly-legalized appointment of two co-chairpersons that the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) as well as the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) long exercised.
In other areas, the bill goes beyond solely the acknowledgement of ongoing practices, and tackles certain obsolete aspects of Turkish law. If approved, the bill will amend a local government law dating back to 1949, that mandates the Interior Ministry to change non-Turkish names -an embodiment of the country's forced Turkification policies. Moreover, the legalization of Kurdishlanguage instruction in private schools represents an important step toward equal citizenship. Finally, the bill lowers the eligibility criteria for Treasury aid for political parties from seven to three percent of the vote, thereby giving smaller parties a fighting chance.
Although Turkish nationalists criticized the bill as a concession to the Kurds and claimed that the AK Party demonstrated its "commitment to ethnic separatism" by sponsoring such reforms, it is important to note that the new law addresses secularist concerns by introducing legal safeguards against discrimination in housing, commercial transactions and hiring practices as well as against interventions in individual lifestyles.
Despite significant improvements, however, the reform bill represents a good first step toward tackling Turkey›s chronic problems. There is obvious room for improvement: A considerable part of the Kurdish community interprets the restriction of native-language education to private schools as a double standard against lower income households. Similarly, the bill fails to address discrimination against LGBT groups –a serious and widespread issue that the ruling party and its opponents alike did not raise in their deliberations.
The primary problem with such progressive measures, however, is the judiciary's overall reluctance to embrace similar efforts in the past. Unlike in the United States and elsewhere -where the courts did, at times, push society toward more liberty and democracy- Turkish courts historically have sought to hinder reform policies instead of promoting and implementing them. As such, it is impossible not to dread the-possibly limited real-life implications of the new law in the court of law.
Briefly put, the government's new democratization package is a good piece of legislation that should, by no means, be the last of its kind. Maintaining a healthy dialogue between various social groups will inevitably reshape the deeplyentrenched notion that certain groups can claim exclusive ownership over the state, and lead Turkey toward the greater goal of equal citizenship for all.