Turkey is going through a rough patch, but it remains committed to a democratic, modernizing and pro-European agenda, said Mehmet Şimşek, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey. “The outlook is that Turkish democracy will grow stronger and the rule of law will be strengthened,” he said, as before a live audience he answered questions from Philipp Rösler, Head of Regional and Government Engagement, and Member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum.

Why are so many journalists in jail in Turkey right now?

The deputy prime minister said that Turkey faces two threats: one from the forces that he described as a “religious cult” behind last year’s coup attempt, and the other from the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.) The “cult”, according to Şimşek, controls many media organizations, which it has used to undermine democracy. The PKK openly advocates violence on media platforms, Şimşek said. Such advocacy is contrary to Turkish law and to the law in many European countries.

“A judicial process is taking place,” Şimşek said. “The courts will decide whether or not criminal activity has taken place.” Şimşek emphasized that the judiciary is independent. “Turkey remains a democratic and secular country, and a rule-of-law country.”

Why is Turkey changing its constitution?

According to Şimşek, the existing constitution assigns great power and little accountability to the country’s president. The proposed changes aim to increase transparency and checks and balances among the three branches of government, the deputy prime minister said. The president’s power to issue decrees would be limited, and he or she would become liable to impeachment for various types of wrongdoing. “The reform is the opposite of a power grab. It gives more power to parliament,” Şimşek said. He also noted that the reforms, if they pass parliament, would be presented for a popular referendum, probably in April.

What is Turkey’s economic strategy?
Turkey has enjoyed a booming economy over the last 15 years: an average annual GDP growth of 5.9%, while interest payments as a percentage of government revenue have fallen to 11% from 86%, according to Şimşek. The deputy prime minister said that modernizing reforms, including labour market reforms and an increase in women’s participation in the labour market, would join with the country’s demographic bonus to ensure continued strong growth.

“Turkey will continue to converge with Europe,” he said. “We don’t look to Europe for economic aid, but as a source of inspiration.” Since Turkey does not have rich natural resources, its only path to prosperity is the European one: strong democratic institutions and investment in its people. “We will solve our problems through more democracy, fundamental freedoms, and rule of law,” Şimşek said.