By Dağhan Irak
Turkish MPs voted today to approve a much-debated bill to remove parliamentary immunity. Critics have argued that this is a blatant move against Kurdish representation in parliament however.
Proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the bill will heavily affect parliamentary arithmetic and hints that early or midterm elections may now be likely. The change will directly affect 135 of the parliaments’ 550 MPs, against whom a total of 667 dossiers have been filed. Many of these dossiers include charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation” laid against representatives of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Of 59 HDP MPs, 51 will be affected by the move.
The parliamentary re-shuffle to ensue will enable the AKP to reach the number of deputies required to change Turkey’s Constitution and the parliamentary regime by replacing MPs who have charges against them.
Since military operations against the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reignited in the southeast in July 2015, most predominantly Kurdish cities have seen major disruptions including curfews and displacements. As the HDP leadership, which draws most of its support from the Kurdish regions, may face imprisonment after their immunity is revoked, the AKP and President Erdoğan aim to capitalise on this to replace those MPs with AKP representatives.
The motion’s two articles were passed separately and as a whole with 374-376 votes, comprised of a AKP-MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) alliance and around 20 votes from the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), the main opposition. The CHP leadership, championed by party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, carried out a surprising campaign, claiming the bill is against the Constitution but they would nevertheless vote for it. While the vast majority of CHP MPs, 51 of which are affected by the bill, voted against it, Kılıçdaroğlu’s rightwing-leaning circle helped the AKP pass the bill which will likely lead this country into further turmoil.
Where was the opposition?
The mind-boggling question for a neutral observer should be why Kılıçdaroğlu, a centre-left secularist, helped Erdoğan and AKP in such a critical vote. In order to answer that question, one should have some background information on the CHP and Turkish politics.
Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic as a single-party system, politics in Turkey has been based on a strong central state. Even after the shift to a multi-party system in the 1950s, all parties have been expected to respect some core values that put nationalism at the centre, and do not necessarily include democracy. This system is designed to exclude certain movements; namely Islamists, communists, and minority-based political movements. Each time one such group has had a significant say in the parliament, a military intervention followed. The only exception has been the movement led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP.
Erdoğan’s pro-European-clad Islamist movement took advantage of the need for democracy to enact its own agenda, arguably taking over the omnipotent Turkish state completely after the Constitution referendum in 2010, when AKP won a bid to change the constitution and break the power of the generals. While this and the Ergenekon trials of 2008 stripped the army and the secular elite of political power, Erdoğan has not replaced them with participatory democracy but rather with his own brand of populist Islamism distinctly flavoured with authoritarianism.
The CHP, led first by Deniz Baykal and then Kılıçdaroğlu, could never get a grip on this change. While the state was completely taken over by the AKP, the CHP – the original guardian of Turkey’s one-party system – acted as the bastion of the Turkish state, as it was the Republic’s founding party (or at least, held the same name) and ostensibly the ultimate defender of state’s core values.
This has been hard-coded into the CHP’s political culture. Even when it leaned farthest to the left in the early 1970s, the CHP government led by Bülent Ecevit carried out an illegal military occupation of Cyprus. This resulted in a massive international embargo, triggering an economic crisis and finally a CIA-backed coup d’etat in Turkey, which paradoxically ended the CHP’s parliamentary presence for a decade.
The only exception to the CHP’s militaristic-nationalistic traditional stance is the Social Democratic Party (SHP) years, where Erdal İnönü advocated a Scandinavian-type social democracy, and even formed a coalition with the pro-Kurdish HEP-DEP. Consequently, İnönü’s progressive SHP was swallowed by a nationalist faction led by Deniz Baykal, who then re-established the CHP. This is the context from which today’s unfortunately unsurprising vote sprang.
CHP unable to challenge AKP dominance
Even if it leads to iron-fisted rule, Kılıçdaroğlu and his leadership felt compelled to vote for the immunity bill: their hope was that voting against the immunities of HDP MPs would be interpreted as pro-military, pro-state and nationalistic, and thus appeal to the party’s core support base. Kılıçdaroğlu could not risk displaying any conflict with the state’s set-in-stone values, even though the AKP has openly threatened other core values such as republicanism and secularism. This explains Kılıçdaroğlu’s bizarre campaign, criticizing the AKP motion but voting for it.
We should also note that Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership is weak, depending solely on the fact that none of the factions within the party can risk a breakaway. The CHP’s secondary place in Turkey is solid at around 25 per cent of the vote. Any breakup in the party would result in two or more smaller parties each on the edge of the 10 per cent threshold necessary to get into parliament. Though during Today’s vote, CHP MPs openly contested Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision to support the AKP motion, they are unlikely to challenge him to a party congress. Voting for a motion that is against the CHP’s values and the Constitution would require Kılıçdaroğlu’s dismissal from leadership and even the party, in all likelihood leading to a party split.
Clear road for Erdoğan and the AKP
Since June 2015, the AKP and the MHP led by Devlet Bahçeli, have constituted a war coalition that made possible another AKP term at the November 2015 early elections. Erdoğan and his party manipulated Turkey’s nationalist doxa impeccably, paving the way for a new non-secular, anti-democratic Constitution with iron-handed presidential rule.
The CHP and MHP’s nationalist leaders seem so dazzled by Erdoğan’s powerful state, one they may have always dreamed Turkey would become, that Kılıçdaroğlu did not mind giving up his own immunity – there are charges against him which he will now likely face.
With Bahçeli and Kılıçdaroğlu stupefied by the AKP government’s ability to put rebellious Kurds in their place, and HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ likely imprisoned with other leading HDP figures, Erdoğan’s wildest dreams may have finally come true. Ultimately, this was not a vote against immunity, but one for impunity.