Spotlight: New regulations for Turkish parliament spark controversy

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-26 19:32:55|Editor: Zhou Xin
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ANKARA, July 26 (Xinhua) -- A series of new internal regulations for the Turkish Parliament submitted by the ruling party have met with fierce hostility of the opposition claiming that it would muzzle any dissent in the National Assembly.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) backed by the Nationalist Movement party (MHP) submitted a 18-article amendment to internal regulation of the parliament, a change required by the constitutional reform that has granted the head of state critical extensive executive powers.

The government claims and insists that the changes will render parliamentary work more efficient and less time consuming.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who held several parliamentary mandates in the past, frequently criticized the opposition for "stealing the parliament's time" and "obstructing legislative work."

According to the adopted constitutional revision, the parliament has to finalize all the necessary adjustments to the laws which include this internal regulation change in accordance with the stipulated presidential system change within six months.

The draft generated tense arguments in the Constitutional subcommittee but is expected to pass within weeks because the AKP and MHP dispose of a majority vote.

In the skew of events, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the second the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) have decided to delay the adoption of the draft, probably until late August, according to parliamentary sources.

The proposed changes are broad and drastic, amended by laws which are in effect since the early 1970's. According to the main opposition CHP, they will have a lasting and destructive effect on plurality of Turkish politics amid already criticism of an authoritarian rule allegedly installed by Erdogan.

"The parliament is first and foremost a place of debate. They want to change regulations in order to silence the opposition. We do not accept those changes," said on Tuesday Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of CHP in a speech in the National Assembly, where heated debates began on Monday afternoon on the controversial package.

"We reject the proposed changes and will decry them until the end in parliament," the official said.

"The AKP is aiming to neutralize the parliament altogether and transform it as the notary of the government," denounced HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir.

The CHP refers to the package as the "Palace Regime's" wishes, in a clear reference to the presidential office from where the dominant Erdogan rules Turkey. "This draft is a black mark for Turkish democracy," claimed influential CHP lawmaker Ozgur Ozel, adding that it would amount to a "coup" for all legislative work.

One of the articles of the draft is about the dress code in parliament. Conservative AKP leaders do not favor the black tailcoat worn by the president of the parliament, considering it as a symbol of the "western attire." If adopted, this costume in practice since decades would no longer be required.

Other important articles made headlines in the liberal press arguing that it would seriously limit the lawmakers speech time on a draft law, for example.

Actually a member of parliament has the right to speak up to 40 minutes on a specific topic. This will be reduced to 14 minutes. The legislator bringing a matter to parliament's attention would get five minutes, and three other parties could take three minutes each to respond.

There's also a change regarding secret balloting which would be something of the past if at least 20 lawmakers agree to open a vote. Another article reduces drastically TV time on parliamentary debate and bans lawmakers to broadcast live coverage of discussions on social media.

"Ways of getting the public informed are being largely prevented amid an intention of silencing the opposition," said Mithat Sancar, HDP lawmaker and a well known law professor.

Another thorny article in the draft is the narrative used in the hemicycle by lawmakers which can be held accountable and sanctioned to a hefty fine if they use words in their speeches found to be offensive to Turkey's history or to the Muslim faith.

Sancar argued that such words as "Kurd provinces" or "Kurdistan" used by pro-Kurdish MP's to define mainly Kurdish populated southeastern provinces would be banned, amid an outgoing bloody insurgency of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that the government has promised to crush.

The AKP who has a crushing majority in parliament ever since first coming to power in 2003 managed so far to pass any legislation without major problems. Critics of the draft are questioning the timing of this important revision.

CHP lawmaker Sibel Ozdemir argued that the main reason of an urgency on this draft is the looming November 2019 presidential election after which the constitutional revision enhancing Erdogan's authority will fully be implemented.

Until then, parliament needs to pass about 2,000 transition laws and regulations so that the new constitution can go into effect immediately.

"The AKP agenda is to make sure that all transition laws be adopted swiftly without real debate in parliament," claimed Ozdemir, adding that the proposed changes are not in line with European Union values that Turkey is committed to abide according to its longstanding membership bid.

"While the prerogatives of the European Parliament are being elevated, here in Turkey we are doing the opposite. This draft will only serve to increase European criticism of the erosion of separation of powers," she indicated.