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December 04, 2012, Tuesday

Much ado about something?

If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan means what he has been saying for days, we are headed for a critical vote in Parliament that may end in 10 or so Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies losing their parliamentary immunity.

Erdoğan already knows that he is stretching the limits of tolerance too far this time. The Kurdish issue has always been the primary challenge for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its rather toothless adversary, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). However, as the main actor who calls the shots in the end is the political executive, all focus is on what will unfold with Erdoğan at the helm.

Erdoğan’s emphasis was on his tough discourse as he addressed the BDP. “If they want to remain in Parliament, they must first show that they do not support terrorism,” he said loudly. “They must condemn terrorism. We do not wish to be under the same roof of Parliament with them if they are the extended arms of the terrorist organization.”

Erdoğan either knows what he is doing or wants to check the loyalties of the deputies. The time he spent yesterday with them is a sign of uncertainties over what decision to make but, at the end of the day, it is really up to him to set into motion the works to bring the immunity case to the floor. His close aide, Burhan Kuzu has, as chairman of the parliamentary Constitutional Commission, has to right to call the commission to an urgent meeting to pass a motion on to the Grand Assembly. Then, it will be a matter of days before a final vote is cast.

However, around 50-60 AKP deputies, including non-Kurds, mainly from the eastern provinces, have expressed dissent in one way or another, mostly discreetly. If a division occurs, it may be very hard to close it again. What Kurdish AKP deputies are facing is frustration, alienation and disapproval from their voter base. Is Erdoğan aware of the transitional nature of Kurdish tendencies, expectations and loyalties across the ideological table? This is hard to know.

Another blurred point is whether or not we are again in the midst of multi-faceted development about a new initiative.

Mehmet Öcalan, brother of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, told the Akşam daily that “a new initiative could be underway in a matter of weeks if the deep state does not act again.” However, other reports tell of new military campaigns against PKK elements involving thousands of elite soldiers. Given the fragile balance on which everything rests, we should be cautious. The only surprise would be if Öcalan were to declare a cease-fire on the condition of dialogue, with or without Parliament.

Another dimension is the so-called pending “Fourth Judiciary Reform Package” which, as my sources say, is being deliberately delayed at the Cabinet level. The package defines “links with a terrorist organization” in a clearer manner, which would lead to the release of some detainees in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trials while making the arrest of BDP deputies (if their immunity is rescinded) very difficult to do. However, the delay at the Cabinet level means that there are divisions among the ministers over whether to go ahead with it or not. In other words, the AKP’s hawks and doves are in the midst of strife.

Each day that passes and each repeat of the intention to cancel the deputies’ parliamentary immunity, the AKP is working itself in a corner, to the point of no return. If the CHP -- in a surprise move -- does not join the “yes” vote, the AKP may be in an even more troubled spot.

Nevertheless, the worst-case scenario is not a remote possibility. The BDP, through various channels, has said that any vote to cancel its deputies’ immunity would be met with an action both inside and outside of Parliament. One can expect the entire BDP group to camp inside the building, possibly on a hunger strike, and a new crisis would be born. The paradox is that while Erdoğan calls for the BDP to condemn the PKK, he does not deny the fact that high-level figures of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) are in contact with its leader. Encouraged by this, we cannot expect any BDP deputy to follow Erdoğan’s advice. It is an impasse and a big headache for the AKP.

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