Turkey’s ruling AKP-MHP alliance preparing laws to silence opposition

Turkish parliament reconvened on June 2, following an almost two-month break, with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its junior coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), poised to push through a large number of laws that will place the opposition and any critical thought in a chokehold.

The AKP-MHP alliance has put aside much more pressing regulations, including those that could soften the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and is instead determined to thwart - through legislation - what is left of Turkey’s democracy, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Erdoğan Toprak told Ahval.

The vast array of proposed legislation - from expanding the powers of watchmen to the political parties’ law - are being met with resistance by the main opposition party, Toprak said, in what is likely to lead to tense face-offs between the sides.

The CHP lawmaker, who submitted a report during his party’s Central Executive Board meeting on June 1 on the AKP-MHP efforts, said that one proposed bill in particular, that would require social media users to register an ID number to access popular online platforms, is a red flag signalling the government’s desire to profile users and prevent critical thought.

“They are acting entirely on political ambitions,’’ Toprak said. “Their only thought is control all accounts, which they perceive as critical and detaining account users through their ID numbers.’’

MHP lawmakers proposed the law in April, saying citizens’ ID numbers would be protected under the Personal Data Protection Law.

The bill would also see heavy administrative fines applied to social network providers who do not comply with the sanctions included in the proposed bill.

The CHP lawmaker said the proposed law, along with a recent effort by the AKP to fight what it labels as increasing disinformation on social media outlets with increased time spent online during the coronavirus pandemic, is a cause for concern.

Turkey’s Communications Directorate last month issued a social media users’ guide to this end.

Last week, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun underscored how serious the government is about monitoring social media users by issuing a warning over posts. Altun said users would be held responsible for what they shared on social media under Law 5651 on online crime.

Moreover, criminal complaints by Erdoğan’s lawyers against CHP members, cases filed for insulting the president and the wave of arrests of opposition voices in Turkey all point to purpose of the proposed legislation, Toprak said.

“They are trying to turn social media posts made seven years ago by people who were under the age of 18, and could not be punished, as reasons for arrests, cases over insulting Erdoğan and detentions,’’ Toprak said - referring to the arrest last month of a Turkish opposition member accused of insulting Erdoğan in social media posts dating back to 2013.

Dila Koyurga, a CHP Youth representative and district council member in the Turkey’s western province of Izmir, was 17 years old at the time the social media posts were made. After her arrest she was subsequently released from custody and placed under house arrest. 

This essentially reveals that everyone’s social media accounts are under the control of the government right now and all posts, likely under the knowledge of the government, are being retroactively scanned as potential pretexts for legal cases, Toprak added.

He pointed to another proposed change to Turkey’s present parties’ law that is seeking to prevent deputies from switching political parties, a move Toprak maintains is aimed at stopping the new opposition AKP breakaway parties - DEVA and Future Party - from gaining seats in parliament.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdardoğlu in April said that the CHP would be willing to provide support by way of deputies for both parties led by former Erdoğan allies, should they wish to form a group to enter parliament ahead of the next elections. 

The move would entail CHP deputies resigning to join the ranks of DEVA and Future Party.

“It is a great contradiction that the AKP, which witnessed the largest lawmaker transfer in history the day it was formed has rolled up its sleeves for such a move,” Toprak said, referring to the Islamist party’s use of the provision after its formation in 2001.

In short, the AKP-MHP alliance is pushing all the regulations that would give it increased powers, while silencing and blocking new and old opposition parties in parliament, the CHP lawmaker said.

After 48 days of closure, Turkey’s parliament is sure to witness high-intensity sessions between the ruling coalition and opposition parties in the coming days.