Release of MPs may change the flow of Turkish politics

Release of MPs may change the flow of Turkish politics

Mustafa Balbay says he wants to run a marathon when and if he is released by the court following the latest legal amendments in the Turkish penal code regarding the abolishment of the Specially Authorized Courts. He means both literally running a marathon and as a metaphor, if it is considered that Monday, July 9 will be his 1,222nd day in prison, and he is still under arrest without any conviction. Monday will be important for him because he awaits his release, especially after a statement by the Istanbul court that a ruling could be possible that day.

Accused of being a part of the plot to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government as part of the alleged terrorist organization “Ergenekon,” journalist Balbay was elected as a member of Parliament from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the June 2011 elections, while he was in jail.

He is one of eight deputies elected while in jail. The CHP has another deputy elected from jail: a world-renowned transplant surgeon, Dr. Mehmet Haberal. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has one retired general, Engin Alan, inside. And the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has five deputies in prison.

None of these deputies have been able to begin their legislative work because they failed to take the Parliamentary oath, as they are not permitted to do so. If and when they are released, it is likely that Parliament, which is on summer recess now, could convene in an emergency session for their oath-taking ceremony.

There are certain groups, for example the Fethullah Gülen movement, who disagree with the government both on the new law and the possible releases, saying that this will annul the “advances” the AK Parti government has made. But observing that they had begun to become a burden rather than an advantage for their policies, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his legal team decided to curb the authorities of judges and prosecutors, with some unrevealed concerns that they might turn into Frankenstein’s monsters of sorts.

If and when the jailed deputies are released, the flow of Turkish politics is likely to change too, because it will serve to moderate the polarization in politics for the time being.

For example if Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP, who got Balbay and Haberal elected and never let the issue drop from the Turkish domestic agenda, were able to take the floor together with two released deputies at the CHP congress on July 17-18 in Ankara, this would definitely help him consolidate his power in the party. That boost of power could lead Kılıçdaroğlu to take new steps to get to terms with Erdoğan especially on the highly critical Kurdish issue, which might lead Erdoğan to take more steps on the political, rather than security side of the problem. With increasing threats from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the prime minister has to balance security measures with political, cultural and other measures, which will be much easier to accomplish with the backing of the main opposition party.

So a possible court decision on Monday or in the following days to allow Balbay to run his marathon could lead Turkish politics to open new doors to find solutions for some of its basic problems, as well.

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