The June 2015 elections in which his party lost an absolute majority of seats in parliament may have shocked President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but, like any dictator worth his salt, he’s not willing to go down without a fight. Indeed, it increasingly appears as if Erdoğan’s ruling party will not be able to form a coalition that, as explained in this piece immediately after the elections, ultimately means new elections until the impasse is broken.
It is against this context that Erdoğan has literally turned his guns on Kurds inside Syria. Now, he is seeking to do much the same thing within Turkey by lifting the parliamentary immunity of senior Kurdish leaders, with the goal of handicapping the largely Kurdish party ahead of new elections. From Hürriyet Daily News:
Parliament must strip the immunity from prosecution of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers and make them “pay the price” for links to “terrorist groups,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said as the government increases its attacks on the Kurdish movement. “Those who exploit the people and the state’s tolerance and patience will receive the answer they deserve as soon as possible. Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination,” he said July 28 prior to a visit to China.
Many Kurds oppose lifting the parliamentary immunity of senior HDP leaders. Perhaps they have it wrong: Perhaps they should instead demand that Turkey lift immunity on any figure — even the prime minister or president — who have supported terrorist groups or, for that matter, been involved in corruption. HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a man whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, lives well within his means. Turks may disagree with his politics and I certainly disagree with his economic philosophy, but no one can accuse him of corruption. The same cannot be said for Erdoğan who, beginning as mayor of Istanbul (during which there were 13 separate corruption cases brought) and then through his premiership and now presidency, accumulated vast sums of money far beyond that which his salary would suggest.
As for terrorism, there is no greater terror sponsor in Turkey than Erdoğan himself. He has repeatedly embraced not only Hamas, the terrorist movement, but also its most radical leaders. Indeed, for all Erdoğan depicts himself as a patron of the Palestinians, he is decidedly unwelcome in Ramallah and the West Bank because of his support for a group just as lethal to more moderate Palestinians as Israelis. Troubling questions remain regarding Turkish weapons shipments to Nigerian Islamists against the backdrop of the Boko Haram uprising and evidence is now overwhelming that Erdoğan was not only passively complicit but also directly responsible for supporting the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Syria and Iraq. Just as Erdoğan has used his iron grip over deputies both to crush investigations of corruption and destroy evidence so he and his associates might never face trial for their alleged financial crimes, so, too, will he now use party minions in parliament to try to prevent any real investigation into his support for terrorism. But, many Turks — including Erdoğan’s inner circle — know privately that the crimes allegedly committed and the abuses of power are so evident mean that should Erdoğan ever lose his parliamentary majority, he will likely face life in prison if not meet the same fate as former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Demanding the blanket lifting of immunity for crimes conducted while serving as elected officials suggests that justice will be blind to party affiliation. Even if the effort is unsuccessful in the short-term, forcing Erdoğan and his proxies effectively to defend immunity for their own corruption and terror sponsorship is important in the court of public opinion.
And as for Demirtaş? He has used exclusively peaceful means to promote greater rights and freedom for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Erdoğan’s desire to target him is transparent and lacks credibility. In effect, Erdoğan continues to pursue an autogolpe, a self-coup, in order to consolidate power and eviscerate the opposition. If Erdoğan continues to target Demirtaş and Turkey’s Kurds for short-term electoral gain, he will accomplish nothing but precipitating a civil war that ultimately may prove fatal to the Republic of Turkey that Erdoğan now leads. So, strip parliamentary immunity for HDP figures? Let us hope they say, “Bring it on, Mr. Erdoğan. And if you want Turks and the world to see you as anything but a cynical hypocrite, lift your own immunity while you are at it. There’s no question as to who will be left standing in the end.”