Turkey’s parliament passed a law allowing paid exemption from military service, a measure that may raise billions of dollars and absolve hundreds of thousands of men from serving.
The 550-member parliament in Ankara approved legislation today to allow men aged 30 and older to pay 30,000 liras ($16,200) to skip a tour of duty of as long as 15 months. It’s the first time Turkey has offered paid exemption since 1999, when the government was seeking to raise funds to rebuild after a deadly earthquake.
The measure comes as the armed forces reel from attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that killed more than 200 this year and Turkey faces mounting unrest in its southern neighbor, Syria. As many as 400,000 men may be eligible for the offer, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said Nov. 2, meaning potential budget revenue of 12 billion liras, about half the targeted deficit next year.
“That people will be able to buy their way out of military service creates a class differentiation,” said Bill Park, a senior lecturer who specializes in Turkish foreign and security policy at King’s College in London. “Once you start introducing the ability to pay, that looks very sensitive. It’s not only disproportionately the poor, the unemployed rural that have to go and do it, they’re also the ones that are most proud of it.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party criticized the proposal, saying it grants privileges to the wealthy.
“No one, no family, group or class will be granted a privilege,” said Republican leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, citing the constitution. “And what is this? I pay 30,000 liras, I do nothing, I get my discharge papers. The poor who don’t have 30,000 liras, they go straight to their military service.”
Turkey’s 500,000-strong conscript army is the second largest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the U.S.
The change has been on the governing Justice and Development Party’s agenda for nine years and was drafted so as not to weaken the armed forces, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Nov. 22 when he announced the plan. Income from the exemption payments will fund social services for veterans of the armed forces, gendarmerie and police, he said.
The Republicans may take the legislation to Turkey’s constitutional court and seek to nullify it, said Riza Turmen, an opposition lawmaker and member of the parliament’s constitution committee.
“We’re thinking about and examining the option,” he told reporters in Ankara today, according to state-run Anatolia news agency. “There’s a serious breach of the equality principle here.”
Akbank TAS, Turkey’s second-biggest bank by market value, said it will provide credit to finance the buy-out fee at a monthly interest rate of 1.4 percent while Finansbank AS said its loans are available at 1.45 percent. ING Groep NV said its Turkish unit has loans ranging from three months to five years that charge 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent per month. The five year loan’s annual cost comes out to 22 percent, the bank said.
The government started work on the buy-out two weeks after the PKK staged its deadliest attacks since the 1990s, killing 30 soldiers in a four-hour battle in southeastern province of Hakkari and prompting Erdogan to order attacks by the air force and special forces on PKK camps in northern Iraq. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
Turkey has also provided refuge to fleeing Syrians, including the founder of the Free Syria Army that seeks to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Turkey will back Arab League sanctions to end the Syrian government’s eight-month crackdown on protests.