Panel talks on Kurdish reform bill open with turbulence

Panel talks on Kurdish reform bill open with turbulence

Panel talks on Kurdish reform bill open with turbulence

HDP lawmakers are seen during a hot debate with the colleagues from the MHP during a bill at the Parliament’s Internal Affairs Commission. AA photo

A parliamentary debate on Turkey’s peace process unsurprisingly started with acrimony on July 2 with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) trading accusations.

The MHP says the bill is part of a series of concessions given by the government to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), arguing that the government and especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been tolerant to the extent of going soft on PKK demands because he needs the support of the PKK and its jailed leader for his presidential ambitions.

Briefing Parliament’s Internal Affairs Commission over the content of the bill on the opening day of debates, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said the bill would expand the sphere of politics, indicating that it would thus weaken popular support for the armed struggle.

The commission level debates over the bill began only a day after Erdoğan launched a charm offensive aimed at winning the confidence of Kurdish voters after being installed on July 1 as the ruling party’s presidential candidate.

In the morning during the opening of the debates, MHP Deputy Chair Oktay Vural, a nonmember attending the meeting, objected to the commission chair, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Mehmet Ersoy, saying “You cannot begin [debates].”

“Can the commission work upon threats from the terrorist organization?” asked Vural, sparking severe reaction from HDP deputies and prompting HDP deputy Hasip Kaplan to say: “Nobody can show off here. Opinions are discussed here.”

Amid the quarrel between MHP and HDP deputies, MHP deputy Özcan Yeniçeri called out to Ersoy: “Here, are you the counterpart? Who are these?”

The address angered Kaplan. “We came with the elections. Who are you? Don’t disrespect the will of the nation.”

With cameras being taken out of the hall afterwards, the commission began a procedural debate concerning Vural’s objection.

Later in the afternoon session, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Ahmet Aydın, also a nonmember, argued that Turkey was on the eve of liberating itself from a century-old problem.

“We hold the whip hand for resolving the problems that have become shackles on our feet,” Aydın said.

As recently as July 1, Erdoğan declared his intention of proceeding with his government’s assertive initiative, the resolution/peace process intended to end the three-decade-long conflict between Turkey’s security forces and the PKK in order to pave the way for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish issue.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been serving a life sentence on the İmralı Island prison in the Marmara Sea since he was captured in 1999, has been in dialogue with both state officials and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and later also with its sister party, the HDP, at least since late 2012, as part of the peace process.

AKP and HDP deputies reiterated their well-known support for the bill, while the MHP repeated its strong objection to the bill.

For its part, meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also raised its reservations over the bill, which it said was just a “maneuver” for Erdoğan’s presidential ambitions.

“It is not possible to know what kind of an approach he will assume after the elections. Nobody knows which steps will be taken after the bill is adopted,” CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group chair Akif Hamzaçebi said.

Parliament’s summer recess, which was originally scheduled to begin on July 1, was already extended to July 25 upon an initiative by the ruling AKP. The extension is widely considered as an indication of the government’s willingness to ensure the bill is approved before the two-round presidential elections in August in a bid by Erdoğan to garner votes from Kurdish voters.