Court’s announcement to determine fate of Constitution

Court’s announcement to 
   determine fate of Constitution

Political immunity has long been discussed in Turkey because it has been frequently used to keep ministers and deputies safe from prosecution. Occasionally, the immunity of some deputies was removed in Parliament’s plenary session. The most prominent example of this is the removal of immunities of DEP deputies in 1994.

October 22, 2008, Wednesday/ 18:13:00
A roadmap for the new constitution and bylaws will be set up this week after the Constitutional Court makes public its justifications for its decision in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) closure case.
In light of what the court says, the AK Party will outline the scope of the changes to the Constitution and to the bylaws. Whether the constitutional roadmap will be created in accordance with the court’s announcement will be clarified this week.

Two conciliation commissions -- which will be set up by Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan and with equal representation from the political parties -- will make the changes. It appears that the scope of the commission’s work on the Constitution, EU harmonization package, bills on political parties, electoral procedure and political ethics depends on the Constitutional Court’s announcement.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has refused to appoint members to the proposed commissions, asserts that Turkey does not need a new constitution. Noting that it will not support the commissions unless political immunities are lifted, the CHP has also made clear that even if the AK Party lifts the immunities, it would not endorse the constitutional amendments. The AK Party, which seeks to pass the projected constitutional amendments in Parliament without support from the CHP, wants to make sure that the latter will not resort to the Constitutional Court’s adjudication to cancel these amendments.

Meanwhile, Parliament is taking vague steps regarding the political immunities enjoyed by the deputies and the ministers, a controversial issue over which the AK Party and the CHP have serious disagreements. Toptan, who called on all parties to join the action in limiting or lifting the political immunities and to set up a political ethics commission for this purpose, also appealed the lawsuit filed by CHP Konya deputy Atilla Kart with the European Court of Human Rights asking for the removal of his political immunity. Parliamentary lawyers appealed the European court’s ruling that lifted Kart’s immunity to the Grand Chamber.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Kart said he would file a lawsuit for compensation against the administration and Parliament for opposing removal of his political immunity, adding that he would seek to make sure the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is involved. Kart said he would resort to legal action against Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdoğan and Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin for their negligent behavior in implementing the European court’s decision to lift his political immunity.

Turkey’s impasse over immunity

Political immunity has long been discussed in Turkey because it has been frequently used to keep ministers and deputies safe from prosecution. Occasionally, immunities of some deputies are removed at Parliament’s plenary session. The most recalled example of this is the removal of immunities of Democracy Party (DEP) deputies in 1994.

In regard to this controversial issue, Erdoğan pledged in a TV interview to take action in an attempt to lift all immunities before the Nov. 3 elections. But despite pressure by the CHP, the immunities remain.

It is well known that the talks are driven by CHP plans to put leading AK Party figures, including the prime minister and some ministers in his Cabinet, in a difficult position. The CHP insists that the prime minister will face prosecution when the immunities are lifted.

The discussion over immunities resumed after the July 2007 elections. The prime minister promised he would take action on this matter. But this time, removal of the immunities of civilian and military bureaucrats became the source of controversy.  

The number of motions issued requesting lifting of political immunity of a deputy or minister has declined from 300 last year to 245 during this term. These 245 motions include 131 for Democratic Society Party (DTP) members, three for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), 32 for the CHP, two for independents and 89 for AK Party figures. The 245 motions, some of which are pending, also include requests for legal investigation vis-à-vis Erdoğan, CHP leader Deniz Baykal, DTP leader Ahmet Türk, Finance Minister Kemal Unakıtan, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Mehdi Eker, former Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu and leading AK Party figure Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat.

Kart: Please lift my immunity

Atilla Kart, the CHP Konya deputy, occupies a central place in the ongoing discussions over immunities; as a lawyer, Kart first appealed to Parliament to lift his immunity. Recalling the legal motion issued in connection with a car accident in which he was also involved, Kart said he wanted to use his right to fair trial. But because lifting a political immunity requires Parliament’s approval, Kart’s request was turned down by the AK Party, which has a majority in Parliament. Afterwards, Kart applied to the European Court of Human Rights for the same purpose. When the European court ruled that his right to a fair trial should be upheld, Parliament, the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry decided to appeal.

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