Turkish Parliament Today Begins Debating Law to Lift Lawmakers’ Immunity

lllTurkey’s parliament today begins debating a draft law that aims to strip lawmakers of their immunity.

Some 155 deputies voted against the measure, with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – which focuses on the Kurdish issue – claiming that is essentially a move to expel its MPs from parliament.

The number of votes approving the bill was above the number of votes needed to bring it to a referendum, 330, but below the number that would allow the bill pass without one, 367.

The bill can be taken to a referendum should the results stay above 330 and below 367 in the second and final round of voting on May 20.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has 317 seats in parliament, needs to win 367 votes in parliament – a two-thirds majority – to push the legislation through directly at the second-vote stage.

The first article of the proposal was accepted with 350 votes, while the second one was accepted with 357.

Several deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) voted against the bill and there were at least seven MPs that voted against it in the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which firmly stated that it would support the AKP in lifting the immunities, the results revealed.

The AKP has 315 seats in parliament and the MHP has 40 seats. The CHP claims that at least 20 deputies from their party voted for the measure, which means that more than 20 deputies voted against the bill in the AKP-MHP bloc.

According to the results, the HDP voted against the measure as a bloc, which consists of 59 deputies.
The HDP regards the issue as “the coup agenda of the ruling party,” rather than an issue related to immunities, said a co-deputy leader of the party, Meral Danış Beştaş.

“The lawmakers will vote on for either ‘democracy or fascism,’ and they will decide on either ‘democracy or one-man rule.’ According to the internal regulations of the parliament, this proposal is meant to be the ‘self-abolishment of the parliament.’ Those who will say ‘yes’ to the proposal also recognize our righteousness but they say ‘the order comes from high places.’ We will see to what extent they will obey the order,” Beştaş said.

The bill had already led to fist fights at the committee stage with AKP and HDP deputies exchanging blows with their fists and feet rather than discussing the document.

Under current Turkish law, members of parliament have the right to full immunity from prosecution. If the new bill passes, it would lift the immunity of 130 deputies from all parties whose dossiers have been sent to the parliamentary speaker.

“The (proposed bill) will have a very negative impact on Turkey, and it is very clear that the attempt to strip MPs of their immunity targets us,” the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas told The Guardian.

“Democratic political channels in Turkey are already in great difficulty, and if the bill passes, many people will feel that these channels have been shut completely,” he warned. “The belief in democracy and politics of peace will drop to zero.

“The draft law was put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is staunchly backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He has sought to lift the immunities of HDP parliamentarians, accusing them of violating the Turkish constitution by advocating autonomy for Turkish Kurds in the midst of a reignited war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Turkish president has also accused the HDP of amounting to little more than the political wing of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization in Turkey.

Demirtas rejects the allegations. He says the immunity move is a mere ploy by Erdogan to take over more seats in parliament and consolidate greater powers for himself by establishing a presidential system.

Sidelining the parliamentary opposition, Demirtas warned, could lead to more violence in Turkey.

“If parliamentary politics are closed down, people will turn towards other ways (to make themselves heard),” he reasoned. “It is already difficult to speak of peace in a time when Kurds are under such immense pressure. Many of our voters are giving up on hopes of peace, and some youngsters want me to use harsher language against a state they believe is only interested in war.

“Demirtas warned that, “If immunity is lifted and (HDP MPs) are arrested, the youngsters who support our party will lose all hope in democratic politics.”