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Political parties welcome AK Party formula to avoid immunity crisis.

ANKARA (CyHAN)- In attempts to avoid a possible crisis emerging from any step towards the lifting of parliamentary immunity of several Kurdish lawmakers, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has found a formula to lift all forms of immunity except parliamentary privilege for all deputies, which has received a thumbs-up from other political parties.

The parties agree that parliamentary privilege be maintained but that all other forms of immunity should be removed.

The formula was made public by the AK Party's Adyyaman deputy, Mehmet Metiner, referred to as the party's "secret spokesperson," who said his party is working on a formula to avoid possible crises emerging from the immunity row. "Our prime minister [who is also the AK Party leader] listened to all of us and ordered the restructuring of the immunity system," the deputy told Sunday's Zaman.

Parliamentary privilege, or freedom of speech, is defined as a form of immunity to allow deputies to speak freely during ordinary parliamentary proceedings without fear of legal action. However, they will not be immune from prosecution if they are accused of committing a crime. They will be tried for their crimes, but if they receive a custodial sentence, it will be postponed until after their term in Parliament is over.

The AK Party believes that the formula will help do away with claims that the immunity controversy is aimed to send pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) deputies out of Parliament and that the ruling party is not doing the same for deputies of other political parties, even if they are accused of serious crimes such as corruption.

The issue of lifting the immunity of several BDP deputies became a topic of hot debate after the release of a video showing BDP deputies and terrorists from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) chatting and hugging one another along a highway in E[currency]emdinli, a district of the southeastern province of Hakkari, in August.

An investigation was launched into the incident by prosecutors, who said the meeting appeared to have been a prescheduled one, contrary to the BDP's claims that it happened spontaneously when the terrorists blocked a road along their route. BDP deputies are the subject of frequent investigations by prosecutors but are immune from prosecution while in office, unless the assembly votes in favor of lifting their immunity. A motion was prepared by the Prime Ministry to lift the immunity of the 10 BDP deputies and was submitted to Parliament for discussion.

For the formula to take effect, the parties need to amend Article 83 of the Constitution, which concerns parliamentary immunity. However, the AK Party reportedly does not intend to make the amendment swiftly but instead plans to extend the plan over a period of up to four or five months.

Metiner also expressed the AK Party's willingness to meet and discuss different formulas with the other parties if they have any. "We are ready to discuss any formula and take necessary steps [in cooperation with the other parties]. We support the principle of promoting law and we believe that no one should be immune from being called to account for their [unlawful] acts," he stated.

"The immunity of BDP deputies frequently becomes a matter of discussion because the deputies push the boundaries of the law. But we do not want to make a change to the immunity system to target only BDP deputies. We are a political party that cannot tolerate corruption. So we also want the immunity of deputies to be lifted if they are accused of corruption," Metiner added.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin also spoke to the press last week and said his ministry is also working on a plan to restructure the parliamentary immunity system that will concern all deputies, not solely deputies of the BDP.

The AK Party's formula has been welcomed by the other parties in Parliament -- the BDP and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

BDP parliamentary group deputy chairwoman Pervin Buldan said her party would support a move to lift all forms of immunity except parliamentary privilege. "If immunity is to be lifted, then it would be for all of its forms except for parliamentary privilege. Motions against us [BDP deputies] concern freedom of expression. We are subjected to prosecution due to the opinions we express at meetings, demonstrations and other events. However, deputies of other political parties are accused of serious crimes such as corruption and theft. As this is the case, it would be a blow to Turkish democracy to lift the immunity of BDP deputies and maintain the immunity of other deputies," she stated.

Buldan also said the BDP has long demanded a change in the parliamentary immunity system similar to the one proposed by the AK Party.

"We have long demanded that immunity be lifted for all deputies who are accused of any crime regardless of which political party they belong to. ... We will say OK if this formula is adopted [in Parliament]," she noted. The BDP deputy also added that she does not find it appropriate for deputies to be protected by the armor of immunity.

CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Muharrem ynce agreed and said his party has supported the idea of maintaining parliamentary privilege while removing all other forms of immunity for almost 10 years.

"All forms of immunity, except parliamentary privilege, should be removed -- and it should be for all deputies," he said, adding that the immunity of all bureaucrats, including the undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MyT), should also be removed.

"If the AK Party agrees to remove the immunity of all people, then this will make us very happy. Everybody should be open to prosecution; they should be held accountable if they do something wrong. Many of my colleagues have petitioned Parliament for the removal of their immunity so that they can be tried and acquitted of accusations directed at them," ynce added.

ynce applied to the Parliament Speaker's Office and the parliamentary Constitution and Justice Commissions last month for the cancellation of his parliamentary immunity in the wake of claims that he sexually harassed a woman in the past. ynce asked the office and commission to remove his immunity so that he can be tried and acquitted of harassment. "I want my immunity canceled. I want to be tried because I want to get rid of an ongoing campaign of slander being carried out against me," ynce stated in his petition.

MHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Oktay Vural called on the AK Party to make the required amendment to the Constitution and remove all forms of immunity except parliamentary privilege. "We want Parliament to examine motions prepared against deputies who are accused of ties with terrorism and violence," he said, insisting the prime minister not back down from his position for the removal of the immunity of the BDP deputies. "If they [the AK Party] intend to vote the removal of immunity through the General Assembly [of Parliament], then we are ready to do whatever falls on our shoulders," Vural added.

The possibility of removing the parliamentary immunity of the 10 BDP deputies would not, according to political analysts, be for the good of Turkey.

Acclaimed journalist Alper GE[micro]rmE-E-, who writes on political matters, said the immunity row is not as simple as it may seem. He said the row has both a legal and political dimension, and Turkey may face troublesome times if the Kurdish deputies are deprived of their immunity.

"Assessing the issue [BDP deputies embracing PKK terrorists] from a legal perspective, if we say that the deputies committed a crime, it would not be wrong to cancel their immunity and try them in court. But the issue is much different. It is not solely a legal issue. It also has a political dimension. Turkey has had a bitter experience in the past," GE[micro]rmE-E- said, referring to a political crisis in 1994.

The parliamentary immunity of eight Kurdish deputies was revoked in March 1994; four of the deputies were arrested and six fled abroad.

GE[micro]rmE-E- also said he does not support the idea of removing the immunity of the BDP deputies. "We cannot know where the issue will take Turkey. The Kurdish deputies may be arrested, or some other disturbing thing may happen. We must be very careful and act with common sense," he added.

According to writer Oral EcalyE-lar, depriving the BDP deputies of parliamentary immunity would spark chaos in the country. He said the motive behind the plans to remove their immunity may be to force the PKK to lay down arms, which he believes will not work. "The prime minister looks determined to fight [the PKK and BDP]. We may be at the offset of a trip to chaos. I hope common sense and wisdom will prevail," he stated.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an is a staunch supporter of the idea to divest the BDP deputies of their immunity. He said on various occasions last week that the BDP should distance itself from terrorism and the terrorist PKK if its deputies wish to remain under Parliament's roof.

The BDP is often the center of criticism for not distancing itself from the PKK. There have been calls from within Turkey for BDP deputies to do so. The EU has on many occasions in the past called on the pro-Kurdish party to sever its ties with the terrorist group; however, the calls have so far gone unanswered by the BDP. (Cihan/Sundays Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Dec 9, 2012
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