ANKARA // Turkey’s parliament voted in favour of a constitutional amendment to strip lawmakers of immunity on Friday, a move that paves the way for trials of several pro-Kurdish and other legislators.
A total of 376 deputies in the 550-seat assembly in Ankara voted in favour of the government-backed bill, which was enough to avoid a referendum. It now needs to be ratified by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The amendment was proposed by Mr Erdogan’s AK Party after the president accused the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of being an arm of outlawed Kurdish rebels and repeatedly called for their prosecution on terror-related charges. It puts 138 lawmakers, the vast majority of them from two opposition parties, at risk of prosecution.
Speaking in the Black Sea town of Rize moments ahead of the final round of voting, Mr Erdogan expressed hope that the bill would be adopted, saying “my people don’t want to see criminal deputies in parliament”.
The decision coincides with a wave of violence in Turkey’s majority Kurdish south-east following the collapse of a more than two-year peace process between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK.
The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its allies. The party has urged the government to end security operations in the south-east and to resume peace efforts.
Turkey has a history of excluding Kurds from politics and critics see the latest bill as an effort to wipe out the HDP at a time when the president is trying to push forward other controversial reforms, including a constitutional amendment to transform Turkey into a presidential system.
Out of 667 legal files, 405 are against the HDP and 102 concern members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), according to a Turkish official.
The result of Friday’s vote caused alarm in Germany where government spokesman Steffen Seibert expressed concern “about the increasing polarisation of the domestic debate in Turkey” and said it would be a topic of discussion in an upcoming meeting between German chancellor Angela Merkel and her Turkish counterpart.
Separately, Germany’s justice minister Heiko Maas said “lawmakers who express criticism [of the government] must not be subject to criminal prosecution. If Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union it mustn’t hollow out the rule of law”.
Ankara and the EU are working together to address the bloc’s refugee crisis despite a series of controversies relating to human rights and press freedom in Turkey that have put pressure on their relationship.
* Associated Press