Abuse motion shakes government ranks

Abuse motion shakes government ranks

What has been happening in Ankara since Friday, Nov. 18 is unprecedented in the 14-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

It all started when six MPs of the AK Parti submitted a proposal to make a change on a draft regarding the 103rd article of the penal code about the penalties for the sexual abuse of children. The Constitutional Court had already warned the government and parliament in July, saying that if no change was made on the article, all abusers in prison could be set free by Jan. 13, 2017, because of a loophole in the law. A parliamentary commission already agreed upon a text that would be voted on and approved in parliament’s General Assembly on the evening of Nov. 17. But as the date was turning to Nov. 18, six MPs submitted a motion as a nasty surprise to the opposition parties. They were not expecting it, and the motion, if it had been accepted, could have ended up in the release of thousands of abusers in jails. Following a row in parliament, the vote was postponed until Nov. 22, that is, yesterday.

In the meantime, it was not only the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in parliament that showed a strong reaction to the motion, but also civil society organizations and NGOs, which stated that the draft could open the way for more abuses since it suggests that if a man marries a girl he rapes, he could get away with the crime; that wasn’t the main objection, but nothing was mentioned about what would happen if the victim was a little boy. The key protest came from the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM). The newly founded association has been seen by other women organizations as a front of the AK Parti. Its chairwomen was Sare Aydın Yılmaz, an academic, but the deputy chairwoman was Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s daughter.

Following KADEM statement, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ issued a written statement saying the government would not take any step back just because the opposition wanted it to. But almost at the same time, the MHP sent a message to the AK Parti, saying they had postponed their first assessment meeting to be held on the AK Parti’s proposal for the constitutional change regarding an executive presidential system desired by Erdoğan; the MHP was really angry that they were being bypassed amid the constitutional partnership talks.

Upon that information, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım held a meeting with Nurettin Canikli, the deputy PM in charge of parliamentary relations, and learned that the opposition parties were not consulted despite his own instructions in the cabinet meeting on Nov. 14. After a telephone conversation with Erdoğan (who was on his way back from a trip to Pakistan and Uzbekistan), Yıldırım said almost two hours after the justice minister’s “no retreat” remark that the draft was to submitted for the opposition’s consultation.

On Nov. 20, Bozdağ had a meeting with KADEM and the Turkish Businesswomen Association (TİKAD), another association leaning to the AK Parti line which had also protested the abuse motion. The stance of those two associations did not change during the meeting, as was reported later on. On Nov. 21, Yıldırım had a meeting with women MPs and executives from the AK Parti in Ankara. It was scheduled to last for two hours but took four as there were heavy objections from among the AK Parti’s women MPs. But after a cabinet meeting the same day, Numan Kurtulmuş, the cabinet spokesman, said that they would bring the motion as is to parliament on Nov. 22 but that it was ready to change it upon proposals by the opposition. 
The opposition rose up and said the AK Parti first needed to withdraw it before they would be ready to debate; Yıldırım who first said that the draft should be taken to the opposition backed his cabinet’s decision.

But the whole picture changed once again when Erdoğan said in the evening hours of Nov. 21 that the opposition parties should be consulted first.

On Nov. 22, Yıldırım announced that the motion would be withdrawn and rewritten with the contribution of the opposition parties, before flying to Istanbul, canceling two important meetings in Ankara, the Economy Coordination Board to discuss the rise of the U.S. dollar against the Turkish Lira and an AK Parti group meeting in parliament.

On Nov. 22, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli asked Yıldırım whether there were low-lifes who were “important” for the AK Parti that needed to be saved from prison with such a motion.

The story of those four days in Ankara tells a lot about the political mood in Turkey nowadays.