In Turkey / Türkiye

Hurriyet Daily News, March 17, 2016

In a move likely to alter an ongoing fierce debate over stripping the legislative immunity of members of Turkey’s Kurdish problem-focused party, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has proposed parliament lift the immunity from prosecution for all lawmakers and collectively review the 506 outstanding dossiers.

Grand National Assembly (Parliament) of Turkey

Grand National Assembly (Parliament) of Turkey

Davutoglu’s proposal found swift support both from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which has long called for the removal of immunities for all members of the national assembly, except for “podium immunity,” meaning members of parliament shall not be liable for their votes and statements during parliamentary proceedings and for the views they express before the assembly.

“Come, let’s all together lift all immunities. Namely, our call today [is about] lifting all immunities regarding 506 files of summaries of proceedings waiting at parliament without making any distinction between any party. AK Parti [the ruling Justice and Development Party – AKP] does not have any file to avoid. We don’t get cold feet at all,” Davutoglu said on March 17, in response to questions from reporters, referring to the fact that there are summaries of proceedings sent to parliament for lifting the immunities of his ruling AKP deputies too.

Dubbing the opposition parties’ call for the lifting of all immunities “fake challenges,” Davutoglu urged for a swift response from the opposition, suggesting they could finalize the issue in only one session.

“I’m waiting for their responses by the evening. While going to Brussels, we will take a stand according to their responses. No matter what their response is, we will take it to parliament and we will see their stances,” he said, adding they could resolve the matter by adopting only one temporary constitutional amendment.

Later in the day, Davutoglu held an almost one-hour-long meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, as recently as March 16, had reiterated his call on parliament for the swift removal of the immunities of HDP deputies. The meeting between Davutoglu and Erdogan took place as part of weekly State Day meetings among top civilian and military officials.

The reignited conflict between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) triggered nationalist calls to prosecute politicians accused of being close to the PKK, with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) having asked parliament on March 3 to discuss the requests to lift the immunity of deputies as part of the fight against terrorism.

On March 9, Davutoglu’s office filed a submission requesting immunity from prosecution be lifted from HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag and deputies Selma Irmak, Sirri Süreyya Önder and Ertugrul Kürkçü. As of late March 16, the Prime Ministry also sent a motion to parliament seeking the removal of the parliamentary immunity of Tugba Hezer Öztürk, a HDP deputy from the eastern province of Van had visited the family of a suicide bomber in her constituency after the bomber killed 29 people in Ankara on Feb. 17.

The HDP, the third largest party in the national assembly, currently holds 59 seats.

CHP deputy chair Bülent Tezcan held a press conference within hours of Davutoglu’s call and responded positively.

“Let all immunities be lifted except podium immunity,” Tezcan said. “The office of a legislator is not an office for protecting anybody and it is not an office for hiding crimes either,” he said.

During the same time, HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen told the state-run Anadolu Agency that Davutoglu’s call, which he said was “positive,” was in line with what their party has long proposed.

“Since the beginning, we didn’t approve dealing with the immunity issue on the basis of parties or one by one in regards to alleged crimes,” Bilgen said. “The president should not put pressure on parliament where the society’s will is represented,” he also said, citing Turkey’s agenda loaded with “risky” items.

Nonetheless, the MHP took a cautious line vis-à-vis Davutoglu’s proposal.

“Our leader will share our party’s stance on this issue openheartedly. We don’t accept immunity armor on a lot of issues that don’t comply with legislators’ duties and are against the constitution,” MHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Oktay Vural told reporters, leaving the delivery of their final say to MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli.

Davutoglu also singled out certain HDP deputies. “If there are still some [deputies] who attend funerals of some terrorists in such an environment, they will pay account. In nowhere on the world can there be a legislator who attends the funeral of a terrorist and a party which defends this,” he said.

“Why is there such a hesitation about those who attend a terrorist’s funeral and say ‘We will follow your path?’” Vural, however, asked.

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