Turkey’s parliament on June 4 stripped two pro-Kurdish lawmakers and one MP from the main opposition party of their parliamentary status after convictions against them became final.
On the same day, opposition leaders claimed that a scheduled June 5 vote in the legislature on handing new powers to a 28,000-member auxiliary night-time police force could see the emergence of a protection force loyal only to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). If voted through, a bill would give the so-called watchmen the authority to ask people for identification and carry out body searches, beefing up their role as a back-up police for catching criminals and handling protesters, according to Bloomberg. Force members would also receive human rights and firearms training.
The lawmakers stripped of their status were Leyla Guven and Musa Farisogullari from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP’s) Enis Berberoglu, a journalist-turned-politician who was convicted after in 2014 he divulged pictures of the Turkish secret service (MIT) which seemed to show the delivery of weapons to Syrian rebels, in open contradiction to Ankara's denial of being actively involved in the Syrian conflict.
The parliament made the move after appeals courts upheld Berberoglu’s conviction for disclosing government secrets and the convictions of Guven and Farisogullari for terrorist organisation membership.
“Disregards the national will”
“This disregards the national will. We will continue the democratic fight to obtain justice, rights and law,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote on Twitter.
“This is the trampling and theft of the will of the voters and the Kurdish people,” HDP deputy Saruhan Oluc said in a speech in parliament, as quoted by Reuters.
The government has repeatedly accused the HDP of having links to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency campaign against the state to battle for autonomy in the largely Kurdish southeast since 1984. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and European Union. The HDP denies having any ties to the PKK. Since the spring local elections last year, the government has cited allegations of associations with terrorism in replacing almost all HDP mayors with government appointees.
Erdogan’s AKP has 291 deputies in the 600-seat assembly, while the CHP now has 138 and the HDP 58, meaning it remains the second biggest opposition party.
Blocking new parties
The AKP, meanwhile, is set to push measures through parliament with its ultra-nationalist MHP coalition allies that could block the plans of new opposition parties—formed by ex-allies of Erdogan—to take part in any snap elections.
Objecting to the plans to raise the status of the auxiliary night-time police force, CHP deputy Ali Oztunc said he was anxious that the force will become a regime guard loyal only to Erdogan and his government, Bloomberg reported. When the bill was first proposed in January, Oztunç expressed fears that the ruling party aimed to create a parallel police organisation.
AKP parliamentarian Naci Bostanci denied this. “The watchmen are part of the security forces, who are serving everyone,” Bostanci was cited as saying by Bloomberg. “The allegations of the opposition parties have no basis in truth.”
Mehmet Metanet Culhaoglu, an MP of the opposition Iyi Party, in parliament on June 4 referenced media reports that some watchmen had been “interfering with people’s lifestyle, similar to the morality police in Iran”.
Erdogan’s government has been strengthening its security forces since 2013. In that year, anti-government demonstrations took off across Turkey after the police cracked down on a small protest about the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park.