The Turkish parliament’s embargo on opposition

The motions, questions, and votes of no confidence submitted by opposition parties in the Turkish parliament are now almost always being either returned with no comment or rejected outright, critically hindering the ability of the opposition to provide any counterbalance to the ruling party.

Specifically, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are finding that their right to question government decisions, introduce motions, and ask for parliamentary investigations have been arbitrarily sidelined or limited by the speaker at a far greater level than ever before.

“Our motions are being rejected and returned at a rate never before seen, with no rationale or explanation,” HDP Adana deputy Meral Danış Beştaş said.

“There is no clear reason why they reject the motions, either, for these are requests to investigate things like torture, murder, terror, human rights violations and sexual assault.”

This limiting of opposition party powers was made clear by legislative data obtained Nov. 28 from the Parliamentary Rules and Audit Office.

Ahval reviewed this data and found there had been 20,589 questions asked to date by parliamentarians during the 26th Session, of which 1,856 were returned to the parliamentarians who asked them on various grounds.

The ministries tasked with answering questions relevant to their portfolios left 8,119 questions unanswered.

The speaker also rejected a great number of opposition motions, claiming that they had failed to follow procedure or included inappropriate language. When asked by the opposition for a list of unacceptable words, no response was provided.

During this time, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) only asked 7 questions, of which all were accepted.

Also during this session, 2,344 investigation requests were filed, of which the 26 proposed by the AKP were accepted. The remaining 2,318 requests from other parties, which primarily concerned human rights violations cases due to the ongoing state of emergency, were all either returned or rejected outright. Even HDP parliamentarian Filiz Kerestecioğlu’s request for an investigation into why these motions were all returned was rejected.

The investigation of issues of great concern to the public, such as the killing of Tahir Elçi, the Ankara bombing of Oct. 10, 2015, the political arm of the July 15 coup attempt, along with numerous rumours of torture, were all rejected by the AKP.

Unfortunately, in the new political climate, the ruling party has systematically reduced, or eroded, opposing parties’ rights, and has fostered an attitude of “What I say, goes”.

Between March 28, 2012 and April 25, 2015, 135 HDP/BDP, 150 Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and 238 CHP questions were denied or rejected and all 94 requests from the ruling party were accepted.

Rejected opposition motions included issues dealing primarily with the violence and murder of women, mining and work accidents, the president’s expenditures, imprisoned journalists, irregularities in university entrance regulations, and sexual assaults against children.

Similar results can be seen for other parliamentary sessions in previous years.

CHP MP Murat Bakan
CHP deputy Murat Bakan

İzmir CHP parliamentarian Murat Bakan told Ahval, "The opposition parties have a very critical function in the legislative body alongside serving with the ruling party.”

We are there to ensure that people’s rights are not diminished and to keep the government in check, primarily by our ability to ask questions or push for investigations. The public can then be assured that there is transparency and oversight of government power, which benefits all.

The unique characteristic of a democracy is the ability to question the ruling power. But now, especially over the past few years, the AKP has pushed to weaken the legislative body and limit opposition parties’ powers.

After the 2014 presidential election, Erdogan solidified his grasp on power and made this power grab permanent with the April 2017 referendum, taking greater authority that had rested in Parliament.

Parliament, originally responsible for the sovereignty of the nation, now acts as the enforcement arm of a powerful individual who continues to erode the principles of democracy and one who refuses to share power or have his authority questioned.

Unfortunately, we are at a point at which there is risk of greater human rights violations as the ruling party will do everything it can to keep its power.

HDP deputy Meral Danış Beştaş
HDP deputy Meral Danış Beştaş

Beştaş stated that the arbitrary attitude of the ruling party was not just seen in parliament, but all over Turkey.

“The speaker wields his power arbitrarily,” she said. “The fact that ministers return our questions unanswered also shows how weak and powerless they, too, are.