A May to be remembered in Turkey

A May to be remembered in Turkey

May was a very important month for Turkish democracy. For decades, Turks marked the May 27 anniversary of the 1960 coup as the “Liberty and Constitution Day.” What’s more, after the 1950 multi-party election, May 14 was marked unofficially as the “Democracy Day,” even by people who suffered most under the Democratic Party (DP), which was voted into power in 1950 and which transformed from a democratic government into a majoritarian dictatorship. 

Now, the May 4 ouster of Ahmet Davutoğlu as prime minister, after a verbal decree from the presidential palace itself, might be enough to make May 2016 a month to be remembered as the government’s final non-military takeover. Subsequently, the May 20 vote in parliament on a constitutional amendment proposal marked the first time in many decades that there was a consensus of over two thirds in the legislature.

Unfortunately, the subject of the vote was not one to be celebrated wholeheartedly as a contribution to democracy. It was essentially a vote in favor of lifting the judicial immunity of 112 deputies. Considering that up to now parliament has lifted the immunity of only 40 deputies, the importance of the May 20 vote is all the more clear. Naturally, the lifting of immunities will not apply to all deputies, only those against whom there are pending requests from court for the lifting of their immunity.

The 112 deputies whose immunity was lifted included the heads of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP). With presidential approval of the amendment, these three leaders as well as 43 HDP deputies, 41 CHP deputies, 22 ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies, and six MHP deputies could be stripped of judicial immunity.

Accountability is of course an important element of democratic governance and it is the absence of accountability – thanks to its overwhelming parliamentary majority quashing all corruption and abuse of power claims - that the current Turkish government is most accused of.

Naturally, a naïve examination might produce a conviction that the government wants to remove immunities only “temporarily” so that a cleaner parliament can be formed. If so, the development might indeed be something worth applause. However, the situation at hand is not so honest or praiseworthy. Parliament has been made a victim of a witch hunt for the further consolidation of greed for absolute power.

We should not forget the trauma that the country went through after March 2, 1994, when six Kurdish deputies were seized at the doors of parliament. What would kicking out Kurdish parliamentarians and throwing them in jail mean today? No one has thought of that and many CHP MPs, fearing that if the amendment remained below 367 votes and the issue was referred to a national referendum the ruling party might score a major victory, reluctantly and shyly voted in favor.

In another big political development, on May 22 the AKP elected Binali Yıldırım as its new chairman and probably Turkey’s first ever “executive secretary.”

If out of the 90 opposition deputies whose immunity is now lifted – including CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli - the courts sentence a sufficient number to more than one year in jail, not only will their parliamentary status come to an end, they will not be able to run for public office again. Thus, many birds might be killed in one stroke.

Not only might the AKP get an additional 20-25 seats and acquire the required majority to make constitutional amendments (after a referendum) alone, but it might trigger a chaotic transformation in the opposition parties, cleansing off not only their current leaders but also some of their “nastier” members. 

Shall we be realistic? Let’s all assume that we want a political solution to the Kurdish problem. If so, and if there is no Kurdish party, should not Turkey help the creation of one, consolidating it and negotiating with it as a counterpart?

But now, for the sake of winning nationalist votes and satisfying the greed of an absolute power-seeking political machine, the peace and future of the country is being compromised. A scenario that could turn far uglier and violent than in 1994 is being staged with a cold heart. As a result, May could henceforth be remembered as the month when the derailment of democracy in this land was institutionalized.

In view of the bigger and more imminent threat of the palace take-over, the parliamentary vote on immunities and the election of Yıldırım are trivial developments. Does anyone have any idea about how the parliamentary ouster of Kurds might be reflected on by the Kurds of this country? Can we still say a democratic way out is possible? Did not the lifting of Kurdish deputies’ parliamentary immunity legitimize certain non-political strategies?