A participatory democracy, rooted in active citizenship and the decentralisation of power from central to local levels, is essential for a democratic society, said former European Court of Human Rights judge Rıza Türmen during the Local Democracy Conference in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday.
A citizenship movement is vital for creating public decision-making structures and redefining the interaction between central and local governance, Türmen argued.
The event, attended by a diverse group of democratic organisations, intellectuals and professionals, commenced with a tribute to the victims of the February earthquakes, and included a documentary on the subject.
Champion of urban rights Mücella Yapıcı expressed concerns over the erosion of democracy in Turkey, particularly following the adoption of the presidential system in 2017. She reminisced on the Gezi Park protests as a hallmark of genuine democracy, where open dialogue and mutual respect allowed for diverse opinions without the need for uniform agreement.
Türmen envisioned a society in which local communities are empowered to make their own decisions, advocating for a shift from a centralised to a participatory form of governance. He underscored the detrimental effect of apathy towards authoritarian regimes and the importance of fostering an active citizenship.
The conference also relayed a message from the jailed co-mayor of Diyarbakır (Amed) Selçuk Mızraklı, who emphasised the pivotal role of local governments in upholding democratic values. He criticised the government’s strategy of appointing trustees to municipalities in Kurdish regions, viewing it as an affront to democracy and a colonial tactic.
Participants engaged in workshops on topics such as democratic restructuring, urban rights, ecological governance and inclusive city planning. These sessions culminated in a series of reports that will inform a comprehensive strategy for democratising local governance in Turkey.
Türmen had previously called for the establishment of a genuine democratic alternative to the regime that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has built up over two decades, after the general elections in May 2023.