Turkey’s main opposition party the Republic People’s party (CHP) has expressed support for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) push to temporarily lift the immunities of parliament members.
The push to lift parliamentary immunities started to gather steam last month, after Prime Minister Davutoğlu suggested the lifting of immunities as a way to dispel the accusation that AKP members were involved in illicit or illegal activities related to corruption and fraud: accusations which has been aimed at the AKP since 2013.
“They have tried to create an atmosphere where it seems like the AKP is afraid to lift parliamentary immunities. OK then, let’s lift the parliamentary immunities all together then. If you are challenging us on this, I say okey then, the ball’s in your court…We are ready to be held accountable, and everyone should be held accountable.”
The proposal for the temporary lifting of immunities was brought to parliament on April 12, with the signatures of 316 AKP parliament members. However the proposal needs 367 signatures to pass, which makes the position of opposition parties crucial in this decision.
In a shocking announcement, appearing on a political talk show on April 14, CHP party head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu indicated that the CHP would vote in favour of the proposal to temporarily lift immunities. Kılıçdaroğlu argued that all parties should support the proposal for the purposes of accountability:
“We want the immunities to be lifted. Politicians need to be held accountable. And we are not afraid of being held accountable… If they are really as brave as they claim, they will lift the immunities of all government officials, even retired government officials. Including the Prime Minister.”
Kılıçdaroğlu also indicated that this proposal would likely be abused, and that it was an unconstitutional decision but stated “but even still, we will stay say ‘yes’ to this proposal.”
Kılıçdaroğlu’s announcement caused much controversy and dispute, even within the CHP party itself. Commenting on Kılıçdaroğlu’s announcement, CHP Istanbul MP Eren Erdem indicated that he would not be voting in favour of the proposal, arguing that “It’s an arithmetic designed to bring Turkey to another early election. For the sake of politics, the entire system may be about to crash.”
Kılıçdaroğlu’s stance also drew harsh criticism from the CHP’s ex-Istanbul MP Professor Binnaz Toprak. Toprak argued that, in an environment where the independence of the judiciary was highly suspect, the lifting of immunity would essentially mean “dissolving the parliament.”
Professor Toprak also pointed out that the lifting of immunities would likely be used to target HDP parliament members, and pointed out that “after the HDP MP’s have been ‘dealt with,’ the CHP MP’s will be next on the list.”
The AKP has previously proposed the lifting of the parliamentary immunities of HDP officials, accusing some of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the Turkish government is currently combating though aggressive counter-terrorism operations in the country’s south east.
Earlier this year, President Erdoğan called for the lifting of the immunities of HDP party co-leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ to be tried for their alleged support of autonomous regions in the Kurdish Southeast.
Commenting on the growing support for the proposal to strip parliamentary immunities, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş criticized the two opposition parties CHP and MHP for supporting the proposal, stating:
“This person at the palace has some coy calculations. He sees the HDP as an obstacle to maintaining his dictatorship. He cannot accomplish this while the HDP is still in the picture. We are the only ones left standing in his way. The other opposition parties have bowed their heads to the whims of the palace… But our people should be very sure of this, the proposal to lift parliamentary immunities does not scare us an ounce…Thank God a thousand times, we have done nothing that we should be ashamed of. Thank God we are not being accused of bribery, of stealing from the people’s pockets, and for this reason we are at complete peace.”
HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ also condemned that proposal, stating: “They are bringing a coup to the parliament. Because of our political position, we are being threatened with being removed from parliament. When your ideas, your identity is attacked you might be ready to pick up your hat and take off, but don’t expect this from us.”
Despite the HDP’s staunch opposition to this proposal, the AKP need only garner 50 more votes in order to pass the resolution. With support from the nationalist MHP and CHP parties, a constitutional change on this issue seems inevitable.