Education bill passed as brawl rocks panel

Education bill passed as brawl rocks panel

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Education bill passed as brawl rocks panel

Amid the brawl at a commission session, the AKP passes four changes to the draft, which critics say favors religious schools. REUTERS photo

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) yesterday rushed through Parliament’s Education Commission the controversial education bill, amid an unprecedented melee that saw lawmakers punch and kick each other, hurl swear words and harass journalists.

Commission chairman Nabi Avcı took his opportunity in the midst of the chaos and hastily read out the remaining 20 articles of the draft, which were quickly approved by AKP votes without any discussion.

The whole procedure was completed in about 30 minutes, compared to the six-day sessions at which the first six articles were approved.

“Down with the AKP dictatorship,” infuriated lawmakers of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chanted in the corridors of Parliament, as AKP deputies congratulated and applauded each other.

The scene for the brawl was set earlier, when about 100 AKP lawmakers packed the meeting room an hour ahead of the session, leaving several seats only for the Commission’s opposition members. The pre-determined strategy, which followed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s adamant defense of the bill, aimed to block CHP tactics of protracting the debate through crowded attendance and lengthy speeches. 

When some 50 CHP lawmakers arrived for the meeting, they found themselves stuck at the door. Their objections led to harsh exchanges that soon degenerated into fistfights and kicks. Two CHP lawmakers collapsed to the floor as plastic bottles flew in the air. One cameraman was taken to hospital with a head injury.

The Commission chairman, however, did not stop the vote and had the whole draft approved amidst the pandemonium.

Avcı defended his conduct later and put the blame on the opposition. “The CHP said it would force the withdrawal of the bill. The Commission did not bow down to their threats,” he said. CHP lawmakers took the floor about 130 times during the debate, which took almost 92 hours in total, he said.

Avcı displayed a bulky metal tape dispenser, which, he said, was hurled at him by the CHP’s Akif Hamzaçebi.

As the brawl raged, the AKP deputies also approved four changes to the draft, including one that would allow secondary school students to choose elective courses according to their talent and interests.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who was meeting with pedagogues and journalists about the bill in Istanbul, condemned the session as “a black stain in the history of democracy” and declared the bill’s approval “illegitimate.”

The CHP’s Muharrem İnce said: “Parliamentary democracy is finished. Bandits have descended on Parliament in broad daylight. See you at the second round at the General Assembly.” The CHP immediately convened an extraordinary meeting in Parliament, which was still under way when the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.

Mehmet Şandır of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said the approval of the draft was “null and void,” and called Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek to action. 

However, Çiçek simply said that his efforts over the past two days for a compromise had failed to bear fruit and voiced his regret over the incident.

Critics say the bill was designed to re-open the secondary school stage of imam-hatip religious schools. The draft is also under fire for its early introduction of vocational classes, and a provision that would open the door to students to opt out of school in favor of home study after eight years. Such arrangements would encourage child labor and undermine the schooling of girls, critics say.

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