ANKARA (Reuters) - A bill proposed by Turkey’s ruling party that would strip some parliamentarians of their immunity from prosecution is likely to create more violence and stifle democratic politics, the co-head of the pro-Kurdish opposition party said.
Selahattin Demirtas, one of two leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest party in parliament, also told Reuters that President Tayyip Erdogan’s drive for an executive presidency was preventing the revival of a peace process between the government and Kurdish militants.
A parliamentary committee this week approved a bill that strips immunity from deputies who have had legal cases opened against them, paving the way for legislation the HDP says is designed to target its members and suppress dissent.
“Kicking us all out of the parliament will only invite more violence across the country,” Demirtas said in an interview late on Tuesday. “There is already too much violence in the country. Blocking the parliament and ousting the HDP may get things out of hand, that’s what we’re concerned about.”
Turkish lawmakers are immune from prosecution but the authorities can file “dossiers” against them, leading to a legal process once they leave parliament. As many as 50 of the HDP’s 59 sitting parliamentarians have had dossiers filed against them, some for charges related to spreading terror propaganda.
Erdogan, who founded the ruling AK Party, has called for prosecution of HDP members, accusing them of being an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The HDP rejects the charge. The PKK, branded a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, wants autonomy for Turkey’s 15 million Kurds.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
Erdogan, who spearheaded a peace process between the state and the PKK that collapsed last year, has ruled out any return to negotiations and has vowed to crush the PKK. Thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians, have been killed in the renewed violence since the ceasefire ended last summer.
“Erdogan is the biggest obstacle for the peace process to continue. But he will not rule this country forever. I am absolutely sure the process will be revived,” Demirtas said.
Under Demirtas, 43, an articulate lawyer, the HDP last year became the first Kurdish-rooted party to win enough votes to pass a 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament, helped by support from left-wing, secular Turks.
Demirtas said he saw the immunity bill as an attempt by Erdogan to bolster support in parliament for the strong executive presidency he has long sought. The president currently has limited powers in Turkey’s parliamentary system.
“Erdogan’s agenda used to be more secret. Now it’s all out in the open, he’s in a position to do all kinds of madness.”
But he said the HDP’s voter base would still have options even if the Kurdish parliamentarians were ousted.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate and democratic right for the people to determine their own futures and form their own parliaments,” he said, without elaborating.
Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by David Dolan and Gareth Jones