Published On: Tue, Jan 10th, 2017

Turkey’s HDP to Boycott Vote on Constitutional “Reform” With Opposition Behind Bars

nsnbc : Turkey’s leftist HDP announced that the party will boycott a parliamentary vote on constitutional change that would introduce an executive presidential system in the country. Turkey’s CHP also opposes the constitutional change.

Constitutional "reform" with opposition members behind bars.

Constitutional “reform” with opposition members behind bars.

If adopted by parliament, an executive presidential system will gradually be introduced in Turkey. The constitutional change proposed by Turkey’s Islamist, governing AKP and supported by the MHP, would concentrate political power in the hands of the presidency. Moreover, it would turn parliament into a virtually powerless “rubbe stamp” institution comparable to the parliament in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On Tuesday parliament voted to press on with the debate about a constitutional reform package. The initial vote, seen as an early indicator of support for the bill, was passed with 338 votes. However, the result also showed that some MPs from the ruling AKP and the nationalist opposition MHP, had not voted in favor.

Ayhan Bilgen, MP and spokesman for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said on Twitter late Monday: “We will not use our vote for this illegitimate reform while our deputies are unjustly under arrest and prevented from carrying out their duties.”  Eleven HDP MPs are currently in prison for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

On Monday Turkey’s parliament began debating the draft for the new constitution. A final vote is expected within two weeks.  If the draft is approved by parliament, a referendum is expected to take place within 60 days, indicating a date in late March or early April.

Selahattin Demirtas, one of the HDP’s co-leaders, on Monday criticized the debates from behind bars. Demirtas said “the arrest of 11 members of the party had stripped them of their chance to challenge the draft constitution and “makes the debate and the vote controversial from the very start”.

On November 4, 2016, 12 Kurdish HDP MPs, including the two co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag, were arrested on charges of links to the PKK. They deny the charges. The HDP drew unwanted attention from Turkey’s ruling AKP and “security services” after it criticized the AKP government for unilaterally ending the ceasefire and peace talks with the PKK in 2015.

In May 2016, parliament voted to strip lawmakers of their legal immunity, paving the way for the HDP legislators’ arrests. The HDP was increasingly targeted after the “failed” military coup on July 15,  2016, even though the coup was blamed on Gülenists. Thousands of officials from the HDP have been detained since 2015. Turkey detained over 200 HDP members in December 2016.

The AKP needs more than 330 votes a three fifths majority for the bill to be submitted to a referendum for voters’ approval. The opposition CHP also opposes the introduction of a presidential system, although it won’t boycott the vote.

The launch of the talks prompted protests, despite the fact that the country still is governed by emergency laws introduced on July 20, 2016, after the “failed” military coup on July 15. Others stress that the introduction of the executive presidential system render the parliament virtually powerless and transforms it into a “rubber stamp assembly” comparable to the parliament in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While most journalists have been too intimidated to report details, and media have largely been put under State control, it has transpired that police has dispersed non-violent protests throughout the country. In some cases police used disproportionate violence and water cannons.

“The heads of 100 nongovernmental organizations wanted to come and make statements here (in front of the parliament). But now you see, parliament is under blockade, the roads are closed, there is a TOMA (a water cannon vehicle). We are under siege,” said Aykut Erdogdu, a lawmaker of the Republican people’s Party – CHP. He added: “It is very wrong to block parliament on the eve of such an important constitutional change that will be discussed in parliament.”

Erdogdu stressed that the CHP’s parliamentary group will attempt to prolong and if possible stall the “constitutional reform” by issuing proposals and non-confidence motions in order to emphasize their opposition.

CHP Deputy Group Chair Özgür Özel, for his part, told the press: “We think that the longer this process is going to be, the more useful it will be, the more likely these mistakes will be realized, and the constitutional proposal will be completely withdrawn.” He added that the discussions which prolonged the process in the parliamentary commission were fruitful in that they created awareness about the importance of the amendment. “We will give speeches on the entire constitutional amendment and then on each item. In addition, we may also propose that the material be removed from the text because it is contrary to the constitution,” Özel added.

The governing, Islamist AKP Group’s Deputy Chairperson Mustafa Elitaş, for his part, criticized the CHP’s plan to suggest it would appeal the amendments on the grounds that they are anti-constitutional. He noted that: “The parliamentary spokesperson should not issue that contradiction to the constitution proposal because after the constitution has changed, it will become the material of the constitution”.

Semih Yalçın, the MHP deputy leader, also opposed the CHP’s criticism that the amendment would pave the way for a federal system and ultimately the division of the country. Yalçın noted in a written statement that with the efforts of the MHP, the unitary character of the country had been protected and that all the possibilities that would lead to a regime change or division had been eliminated.

The AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) block is making a special effort to prevent any defections from their parties in an effort to reach the 330 votes needed to bring the constitution to the referendum. The total number of votes of the two parties reaches 355, but seven lawmakers from the MHP have already publicly declared their opposition to the package.

On Monday Filiz Kerestecioğlu, the Peoples Democracy Party (HDP) Group’s Deputy Chairperson, stressed that the HDP would say “no” to the constitution, adding that the HDP would try to make sure that the lawmakers vote in a secret ballot, despite pressures from the ruling party. He added: “We believe that some lawmakers who have the possibility to say ‘no’ will be pressured by other lawmakers; the government will use man-to-man marking.” The HDP now decided to boycott the vote.

CH/L – nsnbc 10.01.2016

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