Rules draft on hold after fistfights in Parliament

Rules draft on hold after fistfights in Parliament

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Rules draft on hold after fistfights in Parliament

Lawmakers of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) engage in a brawl in Parliament. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

A controversial draft to amend Parliament’s internal rules was put on hold yesterday after unprecedented turmoil in the General Assembly resulted in fistfights overnight as the opposition occupied the parliamentary rostrum and blocked debate on the bill.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) agreed to suspend the draft and hold more talks with the opposition as Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek made fresh efforts for a compromise and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) stepped in to mediate. The decision followed a meeting between AKP officials and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“We see this as the beginning of a possible compromise,” the deputy group chair of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Emine Ülker Tarhan said.

“We have not given up on the amendments, but we want tensions to ease and continue afterwards,” a senior AKP official told the Hürriyet Daily News. The AKP-drafted bill would significantly curb the opportunities for opposition lawmakers to speak in Parliament and challenge moves by the ruling party.

The crisis - the worst in Parliament in recent years – threatened to derail a drive to draw up a new constitution for Turkey, and prompted calls for Çiçek to resign for siding with the AKP. The constitution-making commission failed to meet yesterday as the CHP boycotted its scheduled gathering. “The attitude of the Speaker [in the debate on the draft rules] has increased our concerns,” the CHP’s Atilla Kart said, adding that it was a one-off boycott.

Late Feb. 8, dozens of CHP deputies besieged the rostrum, physically blocking any speeches on the proposed changes and effectively cancelling the proceedings.

Recess not enough
Çiçek was forced to several times call recess, but the CHP lawmakers, backed by members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), kept up the protest for about five hours, chanting slogans for Çiçek’s resignation. MHP colleagues lent them support by standing up at their benches and clapping hands.
With Parliament TV off air under a much-criticized government move last year, opposition lawmakers actively used Twitter to send updates and post pictures.

Çiçek eventually closed the session, but as soon as he did so the General Assemply plunged into disarray as AKP and CHP lawmakers began trading punches and kicks. The 15-minute brawl was the worst since 2001, when a lawmaker died of a heart attack in a similar melee.

CHP deputy chair Muharrem İnce blamed the brawl on Çiçek’s insistence to heed AKP demands to proceed with the debate.

The AKP argues the amendments are aimed to expedite the legislative process, but the other parties say the government is seeking to silence the opposition and further ease its hand in passing legislature.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ slammed the CHP’s rostrum blockade as “a de facto parliamentary coup” and a dangerous precedent of rendering Parliament dysfunctional.