The major political parties - the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - in İstanbul differ before the March 30 local elections on how to serve the elderly, as Turkey marks the Week of Respect for the Elderly from March 18 to 24, Today's Zaman reported.
The Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) released a report on Wednesday which revealed that the proportion of elderly people - consisting of people who are at least 65 years old - in the country is estimated to rise to 10.2 percent in 2023 and increase to 20.8 percent in 2050 before reaching 27.7 percent in 2075. This means that by 2023 Turkey will be in the United Nations' category of countries with a "very old" population.
With this information in mind and the local elections around the corner, Sunday's Zaman asked representatives of major political parties in İstanbul, namely the AK Party, CHP and MHP, for their views on what is missing in the services for Turkey's elderly population as well as what they propose to provide if they are elected in the local elections. The results appeared to suggest that these parties contradict each other on how to serve the elderly population.
Gülizar Emecan, a member of the CHP's İstanbul provincial branch, who is also in charge of the party's İstanbul Research and Development department, told Sunday's Zaman that the CHP candidate for mayor of İstanbul, Mustafa Sarıgül, has one fundamental goal regarding the elderly in the city, which is to integrate them into the rest of society. "Sarıgül wants to open up 'Neighborhood Wellness Centers' [MYM] that will have facilities and services for the elderly as well as for the youth, children, people with disabilities and others," Emecan commented. She explained that by bringing different segments of society together in each neighborhood and providing courses, activities and trips for them, this will incorporate the elderly with the rest. "There are already quite a few Cultural Centers in the city. But what's lacking is a comprehensive center in each neighborhood within walking distance for the elderly so they can easily go to MYMs to socialize and take advantage of their services," Emecan said.
The CHP also has initiatives before the local elections to improve health services for the elderly, such as the 'emergency button' for those who live alone. "In the districts of Bakırköy, Beşiktaş, Kartal and Maltepe, the CHP has already provided emergency buttons to the elderly that they can carry on their necks and signal immediately if they need an ambulance but are unable to make a phone call," Emecan explained. The CHP already provides this service in the listed districts of İstanbul, but they communicated that their goal is to expand this as well as provide further healthcare services to the elderly after the local elections.
However, an MHP representative is of the opinion that not much can be done to help the elderly after the local elections, because what matters essentially is coming up with legal changes after the general elections of 2015. Fahrettin Taşkın, the MHP's İstanbul provincial secretary, said to Sunday's Zaman, "The services provided for the elderly are limited to hanging signs in buses and hospitals that priority seating and places in queues should be given to the elderly." He commented that the laws should do more to protect the elderly.
Taşkın also shared that MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had opened a new retirement home in Ankara with the capacity for 360 people on the day of the party's anniversary on Feb. 8. "We want to increase the number of retirement homes, especially in the metropolises," Taşkın said.
However, the AK Party chose not to answer Sunday's Zaman's questions. Despite the İstanbul provincial branch's promise to return our calls, Sunday's Zaman could not get hold of any representatives. Nevertheless, information on the party's ideas on how to serve the elderly can be found by reviewing the "Elderly Coordination Center" (YKM) booklet that is available on the AK Party website. It shows that since 2004, the AK Party has opened YKMs in 81 cities and 368 districts to provide services to the elderly ranging from cultural activities and healthcare to counseling. The booklet emphasizes that the AK Party operates with traditional values that put the elderly at the center of society. But, from what it seems, despite the YKMs' goal of providing a comfortable experience for the elderly, the programs' activities do not include other demographics, which makes it difficult for elderly people to engage with society at large.