Parliamentary immunity crisis seen as setback

A move to lift BDP deputies’ immunity hurts prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Kurdish conflict, observers say.

A government proposal to strip immunity from several deputies with ties to the BDP opposition party could force the Kurdish representatives from Turkey’s political process, observers said.

The prime minister office’s recently submitted to parliament of a motion seeking to strip the immunity of 10 deputies tied to the BDP. Cengiz Aktar, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, said that the proposal would be “disastrous” for Turkish democracy and paves the way for the government to give courts authority to prosecute the parliamentarians for “links with a terrorist organisation.”

“If their immunity is lifted, the government is basically telling them to go to the mountains,” he told SES Türkiye.

“There are people in the BDP group who are discussing the new constitution that will define how Turks and Kurds will co-exist in this land, and now you take action to exclude them,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag moved to downplay concerns, saying deputies won’t automatically be removed from parliament or prosecuted if their immunity is lifted.

“Deputies whose immunity is stripped will continue their work as parliamentarians, it is just that the ban on prosecuting and investigating them will be removed,” he said in a statement posted on the ruling party’s website.

This most recent dispute over immunity was triggered by the so-called “hugging incident” in August, when BDP deputies were filmed embracing and chatting with PKK members after the militants stopped the parliamentarians’ convoy during an identity check on a road in rural Hakkari.

The reaction from other parties in parliament was fierce. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in September that “the pictures in the media already amount to very serious criminal complaints.”

He added: “I believe the justice system will do what is necessary. And then we will do what is necessary, if the job falls to us,” according to Turkish media reports.

Following the end of Kurdish political prisoners’ hunger strike last month, government officials signaled that negotiations with the Kurdish movement, including the BDP and PKK, could resume, creating hope that there would be positive developments toward a solution.

Journalist Necmiye Alpay of the Peace Assembly, an initiative of intellectuals to reach peace in Turkey through democratic means, viewed the situation as test for democracy in the country.

“The parliamentary way is the only way to solve the Kurdish issue,” she told SES Türkiye. “If their immunity is lifted, it means Turkey is taking another step towards being a dictatorial … country instead of a European one respecting democratic values.”

Referring to the immunity issue, President Abdullah Gul said Turkey should beware of going down a “dead-end street,” according to media reports.

Gul added that “there are also examples from our own recent political history of what we tried in the past.” He was referring to 1994, when four Kurdish deputies from one of the BDP’s forerunner parties were stripped of immunity. They were jailed for supporting the PKK, leading to international criticism of democracy in Turkey.

It is not clear if parliament will actually debate the motion submitted by the prime minister’s office. There are 757 files concerning parliamentary immunity pending discussion, but they have all been postponed.

If there is a vote, the AKP and MHP together hold 377 seats in parliament, 10 more than the two-thirds of members required to lift immunity. MHP members have voiced support for the motion.

Aktar said postponing the debate would be positive for democracy.

“But I don’t know if that’s going to happen. The government is so keen on carrying out its own policies that it doesn’t seem to see the consequences of this,” he told SES Türkiye. “It will be an invitation for the elected officials of the Kurdish political movement to quit the political arena.”

BDP Mersin deputy Ertugrul Kurkcu, whose immunity could be lifted, told SES Türkiye it is not clear what his parliamentary group will do if any of their members are stripped of immunity.

“We have not taken a decision about that yet,” he said when asked if they would consider leaving the assembly.

 

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