Turkish parliament directly approves lifting MP immunities, no referendum needed

DAILY SABAH WITH AGENCIES
ISTANBUL
Published 20.05.2016 11:42
Updated 20.05.2016 22:03
emAA Photo/em
AA Photo

The bill to lift parliamentarians’ immunities passed with 376 votes in Parliament and it will be presented to President Erdoğan for final approval soon. With this development, some pro-PKK, terrorism-linked HDP deputies are about to face legal action

In the final round of voting on Friday Parliament approved a bill to make a temporary constitutional change to remove some lawmakers' immunity from prosecution to face trial. The bill will be presented to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for final approval without holding a referendum as the 367-vote threshold was passed. In the final vote in the second round of discussions on the bill, 376 deputies out of the chamber's 550 seats approved the bill, 140 were against, five abstained, seven were declared invalid and three were empty.

The first clause of the bill to remove deputies' immunities passed with 373 votes, 138 voting against the bill, eight abstained, three were declared invalid and nine were empty. The second clause ended with 374 deputies voting in favor, 136 against, four abstentions, 11 empty and one invalid. Five-hundred-thirty-one deputies attended the first and final rounds of the secret ballot process and 526 deputies attending the second round. Parliament met at 10 a.m. under Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman to vote on introducing the two temporary amendments into the Constitution.


AK Party Ankara deputy Babacan (C-L) having a talk with MHP leader Bahçeli (C-R) in front of ballot boxes in a voting session for in the parliament in Ankara on May 20.

The main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) marched out of the chamber in protest of recent remarks by Kahraman on a new constitution not including secularism.

The outcome of the first round of voting revealed that the CHP voted against the bill, contradicting a previous statement about voting in favor of it. Yet the party changed its strategy in the second round after drawing reaction, contributing to the rise in yes votes.

According to an A&G research company survey last month, 95 percent of CHP voters surveyed supported the bill to lift the immunities of deputies.

The clause could remove protection from the prosecution of 138 of Parliament's 550 deputies. The targeted lawmakers, who come from all four parties, have had a total of 667 criminal proceedings lodged against them. The main aim of the bill is to prosecute deputies with suspected links to terrorism, especially the PKK.

The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, which has 316 seats, and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has 40 seats, both backed the bill. The position of the CHP, the second-largest party with 133 seats, is ambiguous, with the party administration reluctantly backing the bill amid opposition from some of its deputies while the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) is against the bill and states that it particularly targets HDP deputies, who hold 59 seats in Parliament.

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday that he would pursue a referendum on lifting legal immunity from members of parliament if the total number of lawmakers supporting the bill fail to exceed 367. Erdoğan's remarks came during his appearance at Trabzon airport on his way to Turkey's northern Black Sea province of Rize.

"I hope the voting will be concluded today. If there is an outcome of votes between 330 and 367 votes, then what? Then we will go for the vote of our people to finalize this issue," Erdoğan had said. In a later statement, he said that if the bill on lifting parliamentary immunities went to a referendum, it would have received more than 80 percent support.

The article could remove the protection from prosecution of 138 members of the Grand National Assembly's 550 deputies. The targeted lawmakers, who come from all four parliamentary parties, have had a total of 667 criminal proceedings lodged against them. The main aim of the bill is to prosecute deputies with links to terror, especially to the PKK terror organization.

Speaking to Turkish broadcaster NTV following the voting, AK Party Deputy and Chairman of Parliament's Constitution Committee Mustafa Şentop said that there are a total of 787 criminal proceedings waiting to be processed, 682 of which were transferred to parliamment with 105 currently filed at Ministry of Justice.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has 316 seats, and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has 40 seats, are both backing the bill. The position of the CHP, the second largest party with 133 seats, is ambigious, with party administration reluctantly backing the bill amid opposition from some of its deputies, while the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) is against the bill and states that it particularly targets HDP deputies, which have 59 seats in parliament.

With the passing of the bill, the HDP, which is accused of siding with the PKK through remarks and actions, will come to justice.

The party has long been accused of failing to distance itself from the terrorist organization. Having gained a decent image in the eyes of the public before the June 7 elections with the pledge to be "the party of the whole of Turkey," the HDP's image is now in tatters.

With approval ratings now falling way below 10 percent, which is the national election threshold in Turkey, compared to the unprecedented 13 percent it won in the June 7 elections, the HDP is considered to be paying the price for not standing up against PKK terror.

After the PKK unilaterally returned to armed struggle in July 2015 and turned urban areas in southeastern Turkey into battlefields, the HDP was expected to condemn the PKK's strategy and fulfill its commitments.

HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş in September questioned counterterror operations, saying: "What will you solve by bombing all provinces, just because a few youth took up arms?" He was quickly rebuffed in the media and public due to his alleged justification of youngsters carrying weapons on the streets.

Demirtaş has called for uprisings in the southeastern parts of Turkey many times. In an attempt to make Kurdish people in the region riot against the Turkish state in the face of terror operations against the PKK, Demirtaş attempted to call people to the streets. His calls have found little support.

HDP İzmir deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü is another party member that abstained from reprimanding the PKK violence. PKK terror attacks on Turkish security forces are not "a matter for condemnation," Kürkçü said in a live broadcast on BBC World in August.

Ankara deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder threatened Turkey with war on the grounds of concerns with the security and health of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan at a press conference in Parliament early January. "Imposing isolation on Öcalan and making his people, as well as his organization, worry about his security and health mean an invitation to war," Önder said.

HDP Hakkari deputy Abdullah Zeydan also praised the PKK and threatened the Turkish state. "The PKK has the power to drown Turkey in its spit," he asserted, adding that the Turkish state was "playing with fire." He contended that the PKK is a peaceful organization and able to exterminate Turkey.

HDP Hakkari deputy Selma Irmak, whose immunity may be lifted, attended a PYD congress late September along with HDP Şanlıurfa deputy Dilek Öcalan, who is a niece of the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Messages from PKK leaders were read loud during the congress as well.

Ziya Çalışkan, a HDP deputy from southeastern Şanlıurfa province, attended the funeral ceremony of one of the two PKK terrorists last summer who attacked the police station in Adana.

TWO HDP DEPUTIES ALLEGEDLY FLED THE COUNTRY

Two Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputies, Faysal Sarıyıldız from Şırnak and Tuğba Hezer from Van, have allegedly fled Turkey due to the possibility of their parliamentary immunities being lifted.

According to a report in Rudaw on early Thursday, the two deputies allegedly traveled to Europe not to face the judicial process due to the prepared summary of proceedings on them.

Responding to the allegations, HDP Spokesman Ayhan Bilgen said on Friday that both deputies are authorized from the party administration and they have been in France and in the U.K. for 15 days.

On his official Twitter account, Sarıyıldız said that he is currently lobbying in the U.K. "I didn't flee. I will return to Turkey after 10 days," he said.

Sarıyıldız is accused of supplying arms to the PKK in July 2015. He also reportedly attempted to entrap security forces in the Cizre district of Şırnak province in late January, claiming "30 people have been wounded in the basement of a building and cannot reach an ambulance." The claim turned out to be false, allegedly made up in order to entrap security members.

Hezer attended a condolence ceremony held for the Ankara suicide bomber who killed 29 people on Feb. 17. All parties except the HDP condemned Hezer, calling her actions treason. The HDP, however, rejected to co-sign a declaration that condemned the suicide bombing and did not launch an investigation into the deputy.

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