New Turkish bill denounced as power grab

Turkey flags

Supporters of the AK Party wave Turkish national and party flags. Antalya, June 2015. [Reuters]

Turkey’s parliament on Friday (20 May) adopted a highly divisive bill that will lift immunity for dozens of pro-Kurdish and other MPs and could see them thrown out of parliament.

The bill was backed by 376 MPs in the 550-seat legislature, which means it will become law directly without being put to a referendum, parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to swiftly sign it into law.

The law makes prosecution possible for 138 lawmakers, including 50 Kurdish politicians and 51 from the largest secularist opposition party CHP. They are facing charges including corruption, insulting Erdoğan and supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

The leaders of the ruling AKP party had described the measure as an urgent national security priority. Yet opposition parties from across the political spectrum had expressed outrage over what they saw as a thinly disguised power grab by Erdoğan.

Many Western allies and Turkish opposition groups are concerned that a wave of politicized court cases would inflame social tensions and domestic violence at a time when Turkey is already struggling to cope with near-daily killing of soldiers and civilians in attacks by the PKK.

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Turkey’s prime minister will tell world leaders next week that Ankara can play a key role in stopping a spread of terrorism, including Islamic State, but expected understanding for its own battle against Kurdish militants.

Increased PKK violence would also suck military resources away from the international coalition fighting Islamic State, diplomats say.

A step toward changing the constitution

The pro-Kurdish HDP party says the government is using trumped-up charges to push their party out of parliament and allow Erdoğan to change the constitution and boost his own powers.

If several HDP MPs are arrested, there are fears it could spark worse violence in Kurdish areas, where people could feel deprived of a voice in parliament. So this is a dangerous moment for Turkey, and a test of how far Erdoğan is willing to go to secure his position.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said she would raise concerns over the state of democracy in Turkey when she meets Mr Erdoğan next week, when she attends the world humanitarian forum in Istanbul.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among some 50 leaders attending the first-ever world humanitarian summit in Istanbul to rethink the global aid strategy, UN diplomats said yesterday (9 May).

Turkey’s ruling party named a loyal ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the new prime minister yesterday (19 May), with the incoming premier immediately vowing to “work in total harmony” with the strongman leader.

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In a statement, the Party of European Socialists (PES) called unacceptable the latest move by the ruling AKP party to strip the MPs in the Turkish Parliament off their immunity. We consider the newly approved suspension of article 83 of the Turkish Constitution as another attempt to crack down on the opposition.

PES President Sergei Stanishev stated: “Lifting the immunity of democratically elected representatives of the people is one more step of the Turkish government towards silencing the opposition. It is illegal, unconstitutional and unacceptable in any functioning democracy. Today Turkey moves further than ever from EU accession and flagrantly breaking the clause on civil rights and democracy of the EU-Turkey agreement.”

He added :

“We know very well from past experience that the Members of Parliament have been massively targeted by Turkish prosecutors under the protection of the ruling AKP party. This law will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the ability of the MPs to criticise the government.”

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