‘Coup against parliament:’ Politicians and analysts slam lifting of Turkish MPs’ immunity

Turkish lawmakers attend a debate at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, May 20, 2016. © Umit Bektas
Stripping MPs of legal immunity was a power grab by the Erdogan-controlled parliament, RT was told by Turkish politicians and analysts, many of whom believe the move is aimed at stifling the opposition, especially the pro-Kurdish HDP party.

The Turkish parliament’s decision to take away lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution “is a coup staged against the parliament itself,” Alp Altınors, deputy chairman of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told RT, adding that the move violates democratic norms.

“This is a planned expulsion of HDP from the parliament, because HDP is the most active opposition group in the parliament,” he said, accusing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “planning and organizing” the move in order to transform the parliament into a “tool of the [government].”

This initiative was directed against the opposition, Gunes Engin, an advisor to HDP lawmaker Filiz Kerestecioglu, told RT in an interview, stressing that “a total number of 138 deputies” representing different opposition parties were stripped of their immunity, most of whom are from the HDP.

“It is very sad news for Turkish democracy because what they want now is to push all the MPs from [Turkish] Kurdistan and other opposition MPs, [who] come together for the need of democracy, out of the parliament,” she said in the interview.

She also said the vote gave Erdogan “a victory by [parliamentarians’] own hands,” adding that “the current situation in Turkey… would be a big fail for all the democratic forces.”

In the meantime, Shwan Zulal, a business consultant and political analyst, told RT that this amendment will be used by the government to crack down on the opposition and “arrest or put away any MP.”

“This is a targeted approach [used] by President Erdogan [aimed at] making sure that Kurdish MPs within parliament will be put away on very flimsy charges [like] terrorism or… showing support for the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party] PKK,” he said.

He also stressed that Erdogan “wants to have absolute power in Turkey” and needs to be able to push his legislation through the parliament in order to achieve that goal. He does not have it yet, however, as his party does not have the necessary majority, Zulal added, implying that Erdogan is seeking a way to shift the balance of power in the legislature.

Zulal’s ideas were partly echoed by human rights activist Professor Murat Somer from the Koc University in Istanbul, who said in an interview with RT that stripping lawmakers of their immunity would seriously diminish the role of the parliament, as it would drastically limit the ability of legislators to act freely.

“They [lawmakers] will be less able to do politics because they may, in fact, be prosecuted. And they may be tried, … punished, and get sentenced at the end, [so] they will not be able to function as they do so far,” Somer said.

He added that this move “will create a large series of legal questions and complexities” that could eventually “destabilize” or even “paralyze” the parliament, leading to a situation that “will strengthen the government and may lead to the outcome, [in which] the government will make more and more decisions without parliamentary oversight.”

Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), had already denounced the move as a blow against the people’s will, vowing to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

At the same time, President Erdogan hailed approval of the bill as “historic” for the country.

Earlier on Friday, the Turkish parliament passed a bill that would amend the constitution to allow MP’s to be stripped of their legal immunity from prosecution. In the third and final vote, 376 out of 550 legislators voted in favor of the bill. The measure paves the way for many opposition, and particularly pro-Kurdish, legislators to be charged for “support of terrorism” due to their views on Turkey’s Kurdish issue.

The development comes while the Turkish military is in the midst of an operation against Kurds fighting for greater autonomy in the country’s southeast. Ankara’s new campaign ended a two-year ceasefire between the ethnic group and the government that had lasted since 1984. The military crackdown, which has been underway since July of 2015, has already claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish soldiers and police officers, as well as thousands of Kurdish militants and between 500 and 1,000 civilians, according to different estimates provided by opposition parties and NGOs.