Three parties agree on constitutional change for arrested lawmakers

Three parties agree on constitutional change for arrested lawmakers

Three parties agree on constitutional change for arrested lawmakers

Deputies Kemal Aktaş (L) and Selma Irmak (2R) have met with Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş (2L) and Gültan Kışanak (R) for the first time after being released from prison upon a court decision.

Three parties represented at Parliament agreed on Jan. 6 to permanently resolve the problem of arrested lawmakers by amending relevant articles of the Constitution. 

The agreement has come as a result of a meeting held by deputy parliamentary group leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and two opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) refused to join the commission although one of its lawmakers, Engin Alan, is still being held behind bars. 

Representatives from the three parties will form a commission to draft the constitutional amendment that will solve the problem that has existed since the June 2011 parliamentary elections, when the CHP, the MHP, and the BDP all nominated figures who were behind bars. Five jailed deputies from the BDP, two from the CHP and one from the MHP were elected to Parliament in June 2011. 

The immediate appeals of the elected but imprisoned lawmakers were all refused by courts but Mustafa Balbay, the İzmir deputy of the CHP, was released only after his individual application to the Constitutional Court. This set an example for the remaining jailed deputies, apart from Engin Alan, whose sentence was earlier finalized by the Supreme Court of Appeals. 

Although released, these deputies are still at risk of re-imprisonment if their sentences are later approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals. This situation has pushed political parties to take immediate steps in a bid to avoid further political tension, particularly with regard to the ongoing Kurdish peace process.

According to the formula, three parties will rewrite Article 83 of the Constitution, which draws the limits of parliamentary immunity and outlines the conditions on which a lawmaker can be prosecuted and imprisoned.

The existing article reads as follows: “A deputy who is alleged to have committed an offence before or after election shall not be detained, interrogated, arrested or tried unless the Assembly decides otherwise. This provision shall not apply in cases where a member is caught in flagrante delicto, requiring a heavy penalty, and in cases subject to Article 14 of the Constitution, as long as the investigation has been initiated before the election. However, in such situations, the necessary authority has to notify the Grand National Assembly of Turkey of the case immediately and directly. The execution of a criminal sentence imposed on a member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey either before or after his election shall be suspended until he ceases to be a member; the statute of limitations does not apply during the term of membership.”

The proposed formula envisages broadening this immunity in a way to allow the release of Engin Alan from prison by suspending the execution of his criminal sentence until the end of the current Parliament’s mandate. But for many, a change of Article 83 will not suffice, as other relevant articles such as 14, 76 and 84 must also be amended. An amendment of the Constitution requires 367 votes - a two thirds majority - which could easily be reached with the votes of the AKP, the CHP, and the BDP.