Municipality boundaries redrawn:heading towards federalism?
Last week Turkey's Parliament passed a bill allowing for the creation of 13 additional greater metropolitan municipalities. Some commentators accuse the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of aiming at unfairly winning more seats during the 2014 local election.
Other observers go one step further, declaring the unity of the country as such is at risk. So who is right and who is wrong, if any, of the two camps?

The redrawing of municipality boundaries is a hot pick indeed. First, there is a less controversial technical aspect -- smaller villages in Turkey often lack access to public funds. Even medium-sized towns with a population of, for example, 40,000 often complain about not being able to engage in infrastructure improvements themselves and rely on national or regional financial support in this regard. Obtaining the status of greater metropolitan municipality, which necessitates having a combined population of at least 750,000 inhabitants, is seen as beneficial in this context. At the same time it streamlines administrative affairs as one combined council is in charge although district councils will continue to manage a number of public tasks. However, it is assumed that the mayor of that "metropolis" has vast powers.

Second, there is of course a political issue for the parties involved. Boundary changes always lead to heated debate amongst politicians and citizens alike. Once a particular boundary change has been completed, the political party landscape may change in favor of one party or the other. Come time for the next election, the party in power locally today may well find itself in opposition tomorrow.

On the one hand let me assume that decision-makers as well as observers agree on the advantages of reducing the number of Turkey's smaller administrative entities and creating larger but not too big metropolitan areas so as to improve infrastructure and how efficiently local government operates.

On the other hand and what not everyone is happy about is that this otherwise positive development may facilitate the ruling party to win more seats during future local elections and, based on results from 2011, could even manage to "replace" mayors who currently serve but are members of Turkey's political opposition parties. I do not necessarily buy into this argument for a simple reason. Turkish voters are very keen on electing those who they think are best for their country's further social and economic development. Even members and supporters of the governing AK Party would not wish to see the opposition be treated unfairly come another election day; they know only too well that swing voters will decide many future elections instead of simply the core supporters of their very own political movement.

Alienating too many of these swing voters in case they think that democracy has been treated unjustly due to boundary change would only lead to more of those voters deciding to, at least this time around, pick a candidate from the opposition. At the same time the ruling party will for sure not wish to enter the history books as the party that won elections by design because they deliberately modified the nature of long-established constituency boundaries. Hence, I do not think the AK Party merely had a re-coloring of the country in mind; actually, and as I wrote in this paragraph, it may very well backfire in March 2014 unless its benefits are clearly explained to the electorate!

Let me now approach the even more serious argument that the creation of 13 new greater metropolitan municipalities is the first step to establishing a federal administrative structure in Turkey. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as I am concerned.

None of the existing 16 as well as newly formed 13 greater metropolitan councils will ever have the economic or other resources to turn itself into a "state" similar to how German federalism, for example, works. And dare I say neither would its people want it to! What Turkish voters want to see instead are improved levels of local government, but not a country divided into 50 or 60 state-like entities, more or less, enjoying devolved administrative powers.

KLAUS JURGENS (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-17 12:00:02
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