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Turkiye: To woo conservatives, secular opposition suggests draft law to 'protect veiled women' 

Two women in veil on October 19, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey [Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images]
Two women in veil on October 19, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey [Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images]

In a surprising and unconventional move, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, the leader of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), the largest Turkish opposition party, announced his party has decided to submit a draft law to the Turkish Parliament on the protection of the rights of veiled women and personal freedoms related to wearing clothes. Most observers considered this initiative aims to "shuffle the cards" and an attempt to "withdraw the veiled women card from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)", within the context of CHP's efforts to win the votes of Turkish conservatives in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for next mid-June.

For months, the leader of the Turkish opposition intensified his preparatory campaigns for the elections, amid strong indications of his intention to run for the presidential elections. He is considered now that he converted from the stage of defence and responding to the criticism by the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a different strategy of an "organised attack" by attempting to impose the agenda of Turkish media and politics, through his initiative to raise sensitive cases, through which he aims to force the government to respond to these cases and "embarrass it" in front of public opinion.

For decades, all the hard-line extremist secular decisions and measures that targeted the country's conservatives were attributed to the CHP, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk nearly 100 years ago. These decisions included the issuance of laws that fought against wearing the veil and banned veiled women from entry to educational and health establishments. These laws remained in force until recent years, before the ruling AKP managed to change them and impose a new reality in the country.

WATCH: Iranian woman arrested for cycling without a hijab

However, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, who aspires to win the Turkish presidency, recently admitted, on more than one occasion, that these decisions were "wrong" and that "there is no shame in admitting the mistake", accusing the AKP of "exploiting" the case in every election round to gain more votes, as he put it.

In this context, Kılıcdaroglu published, on Monday, a video on his Twitter account, in which he announced his party's decision to submit a draft law to the Turkish Parliament that stipulates the preservation and protection of the freedom to wear clothing, in general, and the veil, in particular, "the legal guarantee for the veil". He considered that his party's goal of this measure is to end the discussion about the old issues that exhaust the country and distract its political agenda, which will contribute to focusing on more significant files in the country's interest, as he put it.

Turkish journalists and politicians considered Kılıcdaroglu's unconventional move as an attempt to carry out a "counter-attack" by embarrassing the AKP and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which control the parliamentary majority. Where it is certain that the two parties will not vote in favour of the draft law that the CHP intends to submit to Parliament, for not granting the CHP a chance to appear as the party that enacts laws in favour of veiled women, the two parties will also find themselves facing accusations of obstructing the law.

Fury grows in Iran over woman who died after hijab arrest - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Fury grows in Iran over woman who died after hijab arrest – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Ozlem Zengin, the assistant Head of the AKP, commented on Kılıcdaroglu's speech by saying: "The veil ban has ended in Turkiye against your will, and after decades of destroying the lives of millions of women, therefore, you must apologise sincerely or remain silent."

On his part, the MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli, commented on the CHP's move by saying that "the veil issue has been resolved in Turkiye", considering that the attempt to enact a new law is "an attempt to exploit and invest", and said: "If Kılıcdaroglu had all this sensitivity regarding the issue of the veil, he would solve the issue, starting with his party's representatives" in Parliament, in an indication that many CHP leaders are still making anti-veil statements.

While tweeters, who are supporters of the AKP, republished videos of Kılıcdaroglu and other leaders of the CHP attacking the wearing the veil, CHP tweeters attacked their party's attempts to get closer to conservative voters by "moving away from the principles of secularism that govern the party and the State."

The conservatives in Turkiye are considered the largest bloc and the broadest segment capable of granting victory to any new political party in the elections. After long years of attempts, the CHP was finally convinced that it could not win the elections and end Erdogan's rule, unless it wins the votes of a segment of the conservatives, a hard task for the party that is accused of leading the hard-line secular laws and actions against conservatives for decades in the country.

READ: Veiled Muslim women face discrimination in Germany, Netherlands, Spain

The experience of the local elections in 2019 was a significant transformation in Turkish political life, where the CHP chose candidates from national and conservative backgrounds, and it succeeded in making a breakthrough in its results after winning the municipalities of the major Turkish provinces such as Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya. This came after its election propaganda which focused on respecting all segments of society, and defending the freedom to wear the veil. The CHP leaders and its candidates appeared on religious occasions, and its leaders' assistants included veiled women. Moreover, the CHP published videos of Istanbul municipal candidate, Ekrem İmamoglu reciting verses from the Holy Qur'an.

Before the presidential elections, it is believed that Kılıcdaroglu, who previously described the veil as a "meter-long piece of cloth", in an indication of the term used for the cloth for cleaning, looks energetically to shuffle the cards and withdraw this paper from the AKP to start a "counter-attack", based on the narrative that it submitted a draft law to protect veiled women, but the AKP rejected it. Certainly, the ruling party will not allow the passing of such a law through the CHP.

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