The speech addressed by Ambassador Sarnıç at the Council on Foreign Relations in Gaza, 07 May 2014

Mustafa Sarnıç 07.05.2014
Distinguished guests,

It is a great pleasure for me to speak before such an auspicious audience and to share my views about the local elections in Turkey and the Palestinian reconciliation.

Before starting to the local elections issue, allow me to give general information about the structure local governments in Turkey.

Turkey is a democratic unitary country with two layers of government: central government and local governments. Article 127 of the Constitution, which regulates the local governments, defines three types of local government units in the country, including special provincial administrations, municipalities and villages. In large cities with a population of over 750,000, a specific model of metropolitan government is established. It consists of a two-layer structure made up of metropolitan municipalities as well as several district municipalities.
Turkey has realized in the last ten years the most comprehensive local government reforms since the establishment of the Republic, regarding decentralization. Public Administration Reform, initiated in 2003, aimed to restructure the public administration system in accordance with modern administration philosophy. It considered decentralized service provision as the central principle, and propose the transfer of those services which do not need to be performed by the State to local governments, together with their resources.

Local decision makers including members of provincial and municipal councils and mayors are directly elected by citizens for five years. The administrative autonomy of local governments is ensured by the Constitution. According to the Constitution,
- The formation, duties and powers of the local governments are regulated by law in accordance with the principle of decentralized administration,
- Local governments have public corporate personality,
- Local governments are autonomous organizations which are based on the principle of decentralized administration,
- The central administration has the power of administrative tutelage over the local governments in the framework of principles and procedures set forth by law, with the objective of ensuring the functioning of local services in conformity with the principle of the integral unity of the administration, securing uniform public service, safeguarding the public interest and meeting local needs, in an appropriate manner.
- Local governments are allocated financial resources in proportion to their duties.

Another major legal framework for local governments in Turkey is the European Charter of Local Self-Government, signed by Turkey in 1992 and came into force in 1993. The Charter sets the minimum international standards for local government’s autonomy functioning, in relationship with the central power.
Dear Brothers,
I would like to continue with a social, economic and political aspect of the local governments.
Turkey has one of the most well-established modern local governments whose history dates back to the 19th century. Just 19 years following the first local reform in England in 1835, a country considered as the cradle of modern-style local governments, the Ottoman Empire’s first municipality was established in 1854 in Istanbul. The tradition of a local government in Turkey has a history of more than a century and it is for this reason that local governments play an important role in the socio-economic and political fabric makeup of Turkey.
By 2013, almost 30% of the overall public investment is carried out by all types of local governments in Turkey, and more than 80% of total investments made by local governments are realized by municipalities. They are the backbone of local governance in the country. Furthermore, almost 12% of civil servants in 2010 were engaged with the local governments.
Local governments in Turkey and metropolitan municipalities in particular have become important actors to the economic growth of the country, through their large scale investments. From transportation, tourism and environmental protection, to healthcare, art and culture, and sport, many investment activities are implemented by local governments.
Nowadays local governments are also a genuine springboard into national politics for successful leaders. Many current ministers and parliamentarians have served as mayors or held local government positions in the past, including the Prime Minister Erdogan, who was the former metropolitan mayor of Istanbul. This position, the mayor of Istanbul, is regarded as one of the most important political mandate in the country.

Dear Friends,

Let me continue with the subject of local electoral system in Turkey.
The constitutions states the fundamental requirement that decision-making bodies of local governments are to be formed by election.
Elections in local governments are held once every five years based on the principles of free, equal, secret, direct, universal suffrage, with public counting of the votes, and under direction and supervision of the judiciary.

In elections for membership to general provincial councils and municipal councils, a system of proportional representation with a threshold of ten per cent is applied. In elections of mayors and village headmen, the majority voting system is implemented.

In conformity with conditions set forth in the law, every Turkish citizen upon the age of 18 has the right to vote, to be elected, and to engage in political activities independently or in a political party, and to take part in referendums. Privates and corporals serving in the armed services, students in military schools, and convicts in penal institutions cannot vote.

Regarding the political parties, prior permission to form a political party is not required. Parties are allowed to function freely in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and related laws which state that the internal workings and decisions of political parties must conform to democratic precepts.

A political party consists of its central organs, provincial and country organizations and the party group in Parliament. All political parties must establish headquarters in Ankara. In order to establish a political party, the signatures of at least 30 Turkish citizens, eligible for election to Parliament, are required. The highest authority within the political party is its general council. The central organization consists of the general council, the leader of the party, the central decisionmaking and executive boards, the disciplinary board and its caucus.

Dear Brothers,

On 30 May 2014, last local elections were held in Turkey. Voting went peacefully and successfully.

The official results of the elections have not been announced yet. According to unofficial results, Justice and Development Party won approximately 46 per cent of the votes, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party won approximately 26 per cent.

The presidential elections will be held in August 2014 and the parliamentary elections will be held in 2015; therefore, 30 May elections have an additional importance regarding the future internal political structure of Turkey.

Dear Guests,

I would like to share my utmost appreciation for the breakthrough in Palestinian reconciliation reached on 23rd of April between Hamas and Fatah, which was the best news we received recently after worrisome developments in the region.
With the courageous decision of the leadership in both sides, a new window of opportunity has now been opened to leave all the differences aside and unite all the Palestinian political factions around a common goal.

The Turkish Government’s strong support to the national reconciliation has been reflected in our official statement that was released on 24 April 2014, indicating our unabated contribution to the success of reconciliation process. We see this positive development as a motivating initiative for Middle East Peace Process, rather than a barrier. We wish that all Palestinians from Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza would, within the shortest possible timeframe, have a technocratic unity government to carry the people of Palestine to the elections. I wish the unity government would be regarded all the more credible and legitimate counterpart by the international community.

We believe, the unification of the Palestinian groups within a common national agenda under the PLO framework will certainly strengthen the Palestinian cause. In this regard, we will continue to urge the international community to develop a constructive approach towards the Palestinian efforts for reconciliation and to assist our Palestinian brothers on their road to unity.

Ahmet Rıza Demirer Consul General