Turkey’s main opposition divided over lifting of MPs’ immunities

Turkey’s main opposition divided over lifting of MPs’ immunities

Turkey’s main opposition divided over lifting of MPs’ immunities

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Cracks have emerged within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) over a decision to lend support to a government proposal on a provisional change in the constitution that would allow parliament to lift the immunities of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers and others for one time only.

The CHP has officially announced its support for the proposal, despite affirming its “unconstitutionality.”
Speaking in a live interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk late on April 13, CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said his party would be accused of “supporting the HDP and obstructing the fight against terrorism” if it said “no” to the proposal. However, he also said the CHP deemed the proposal “unconstitutional.”

Within 24 hours after this statement, a former deputy chair of the party, CHP’s Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu publicly raised his objection to this party decision which apparently came as a move aimed at rising to the challenge by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“I did not find and I do not find discussing immunities by getting locked up by the AKP’s engineering of political interests and agenda; full stop!” Tanrıkulu said in a message posted to his Twitter account late on April 14.

“Let nobody have a doubt; at any cost, we will not let a second ‘March 2, 1994 coup’ to take place at parliament via the issue of immunities,” Tanrıkulu said, in an apparent reference to lifting the immunities of four deputies of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Democratic Labor Party (DEP) - a predecessor of the HDP - on charges of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Previously, Leyla Zana, currently an HDP deputy; Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and late Orhan Doğan had been elected for the now-dissolved Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), then split off to form their own party.

The four DEP deputies were eventually sentenced to jail, where they spent nine years until the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Turkey guilty, which led to retrials.

As of April 15, AKP leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu used the occasion to attack Kılıçdaroğlu, arguing that the CHP accepted to lend support to their proposal “involuntarily.”

“Kılıçdaroğlu, who first said that they would not lend support to the proposal, has been obliged to lend support upon our call at a [parliamentary] group meeting. He hasn’t lent it voluntarily; he has been obliged to lend support because no place to hide has remained after we called his bluff,” Davutoğlu said in a speech delivered at a youth workshop of his AKP during a visit to Kocaeli.

Elsewhere, HDP’s co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş, whose party is at the center of the ruling party’s move, refrained from making a comment on the support declared by both the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to the AKP’s proposal, saying the move was at the discretion of those parties.

“Supporting an obvious attempt of taking political revenge with such appetite is a big mistake,” Demirtaş, however, told reporters on April 15.

“After the three parties become united and decide to change the constitution, we don’t have anything to do anymore. The only thing we will be doing is standing tall against this mindset which even takes the risk of an unconstitutional change in the name of this reactionary, malicious and political revenge,” Demirtaş added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly called for members of the HDP to face prosecution, accusing the party multiple times of being an extension of the PKK. 

The bill proposed on April 12 has the support of all ruling AKP lawmakers - 316, excluding the speaker who is not eligible to vote. 

With the main opposition party CHP - which has 133 seats - declaring its support, the bill could easily win the required 367 votes in the 550-seat assembly.