The Turkish Parliament descended into a brawl for the first time in 2017 — but far from the first time in recent memory — following a vote on establishing a presidential system that opponents argument would dangerously consolidate the power of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Legislators tore the microphone off and destroyed the podium set up for them to speak on the parliament floor. A legislator grabbed Fatma Kaplan Hürriyet, a female representative of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), by the neck and stole her mobile phone for attempting to record the incident.
The brawl occurred overnight Wednesday during a vote in which three of the relevant provisions of a bill to convert Turkey’s government from a parliamentary to a presidential system were passed, including one lowering the age of potential presidential candidates to 18 and one that would define, and limit, the powers of the legislature in the new system.
The Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan’s party, reportedly started the dispute by not respecting the confidentiality of their votes, announcing their support for the presidential system loudly. The CHP objected to the move as an attempt to shame lawmakers who oppose the presidential system. Of the system itself, CHP deputy chairperson Özgür Özel said the measure would bring about “the end of this country” and accused AKP lawmakers of “trying to destroy yourself.”
The CHP ultimately declined to vote on the later provisions debated in the bill in protest.
The secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet published a gallery of photos of the aftermath, including the broken podium:
Among those injured was CHP representative Kaplan, who attempted to film the brawl and had an AKP lawmaker wrestle her mobile phone out of her hands.
Images later surfaced of her bruised neck, where other lawmakers had apparently grabbed her to keep her from filming.
— Gülsüm Polat (@gulsumpolat72) January 11, 2017
“This attack is the greatest proof of how brutal the AKP can be about the Constitution,” Kaplan later said. “My throat is red, I have been exposed to physical violence, even my telephone was taken,” she protested, insisting that the incident would not silence her against Erdogan’s attempts to change the nation’s political system.
Absent from the vote were members of the minority Democratic People’s Party (HDP), a left-leaning, anti-Islamic, and pro-Kurdish party. Parliament’s AKP majority voted to strip these members of their legislative immunity for their opposition to Erdogan last year, and dozens were arrested following that legal move. According to Kurdish outlet Rudaw, the HDP estimates nearly 9,000 of its politicians and supporters have been detained since July 2015.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Figen Yüksekdağ, one of two HDP co-chairs, for a variety of crimes including “disrupting the unity of the state.”
Erdogan himself applauded the legislative session late Wednesday “despite opposition efforts to delay the process” of converting to a presidential system.
“Blocking or prolonging the work of parliament does nothing. You can do whatever you want, but this charter will be passed from parliament and will be presented to the public,” he asserted, “If you have respect for the people, believing in the people’s will and believing in Gazi Mustafa Kemal [Atatürk]’s principle that sovereignty rests unconditionally with the nation, then let the discussions be finalized and let it be presented to the people.”
This latest brawl follows a string of similar incidents between AKP politicians and minority parties. In December 2016, AKP members physically attacked their fellow lawmakers over the arrests of dozens of HDP members. In May, lawmakers came to blows over the passing of the legislative immunity law that allowed those arrests to happen. In April, a parliament brawl erupted over a bill on clinching a migrant deal with the European Union. In February, an AKP member used a gavel to break the ribs of a minority party member over a “controversial homeland security bill.”
While 2016 was a banner year for parliament scuffles, such incidents occurred with some regularity before then. A year before the gavel incident, a CHP representative attacked a colleague for addressing him incorrectly. A year before, legislators threw water bottles and an iPad tablet at each other over a debate regarding the appointment of judges.