Turkish military may have pressured opposition in 2016 parliamentary immunity vote - HDP leaders

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) voted to lift parliamentary deputies’ immunity after a CHP lawmaker made a crucial visit to Turkey’s military command, a Kurdish leader who was jailed after losing his immunity has said.

The vote to remove politicians’ immunity came in 2016, a year after the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) became the first pro-Kurdish party to break Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold and enter parliament.

That year, a peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) broke down, and HDP politicians came under fire for their alleged links to the group, which Turkey counts as a terrorist organisation due to its decades-long armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule.

The CHP made an about-turn to vote in favour of a bill that would allow HDP lawmakers to be prosecuted after a CHP deputy visited Turkey’s Presidency of the General Staff in Ankara, pro-Kurdish news site Yüksekova quoted former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş as saying in an interview published in a new book.

The CHP had voted against the bill in the first round of voting in 2016. But before the second round of the vote, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that his party would vote 'yes' even though the bill violated the Turkish constitution.

Some in the CHP criticised the decision, but Kılıçdaroğlu said the party had promised voters it would vote to lift immunity and that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would use it against them if they voted against the bill.

The HDP had heard rumours that the meeting with Turkey’s top military brass was behind the change in the CHP’s attitude, Demirtaş said in an interview for the book, “Nothing has Changed: Kurdish Lawmakers from Parliament to Prison” by journalist Hayri Demir and political scientist Hasan Kılıç.

“One day everything will be exposed in full. But I can just say that everything started with the visit of a CHP lawmaker to the Presidency of the General Staff a few days before the vote and the CHP’s decision changed in favour of ‘yes’,” Yüksekova quoted Demirtaş as saying.

The book included interviews with Demirtaş and other HDP politicians who were imprisoned after being stripped of their parliamentary immunity due to alleged links to the PKK. One of these was Figen Yüksekdağ, who served as the party’s co-chair alongside Demirtaş until both were imprisoned in November 2016.

Yüksekdağ said that the CHP should explain its attitude during the vote, saying that the party had had the chance to rule Turkey for the first time in many years before the vote but had lost it by alienating other parts of the opposition. “Is it the CHP’s role in the establishment not to come to power?” Yüksekdağ said.

The CHP’s decision had been informed by the party’s leftist-nationalist wing, which has links to the military, the former HDP leader said.

To make the constitutional changes needed to lift parliamentary immunity, the government needed 367 votes and thus the CHP's support. The parliament lifted the immunity of 138 lawmakers in May 2016 with 140 votes against and 376 votes in favour.

On Nov. 4, 2016 13 HDP lawmakers, including the party’s co-chairs Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ, were detained. Ten HDP lawmakers were arrested the next day.

In June 2017, CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu was arrested his part in revealing to the public images which appeared to show weapons shipments allegedly sent by the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) to Syrian rebels. Berberoğlu was released last year after he was re-elected as a CHP lawmaker in presidential and parliamentary elections in June.