Following a week that has seen multiple fistfights erupt in the Turkish Parliament, minority party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş has threatened to take his Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and form a separate governing legislature.
“People form parliaments, not parties, and the people can form multiple parliaments if they wish to do so,” Demirtaş said on Tuesday in response to a proposed bill that would strip HDP representatives of legislative immunity, allowing them to be prosecuted for speech against Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “The Parliament is [a representation of] the will of the people… If our friends are arrested, if they are stripped of their deputy rights, no option will be incontestable for us.”
“The people, the public would be able to do whatever they wish to do and we would not stand in the way of our people. Defending the will of parliament does not mean defending the will of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party),” he added. Demirtaş also warned that he would instruct HDP legislators to ignore any summons to appear before a court and to resist being part of any judicial process against them for criticizing the AKP: “We won’t allow you to try us in the courts tied to you.”
A bill intended to strip HDP members of legislative immunity passed committee this week, triggering a brawl in which legislators punched, threw, and hurled objects at each other. The head of the HDP’s parliamentary wing Idris Baluken dislocated his shoulder in the affair.
The AKP is supporting the bill after months of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arguing that Demirtaş’s and the HDP’s support for Turkish Kurds and opposition to government operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist group, amounts to support for terrorism. “Motions [to remove immunity of HDP deputies] should not be let to rot on the shelves of the Parliament. The necessary action must be taken,” Erdoğan said in March. “Nowhere in the world can you see a politician backing a suicide bomber.”
The HDP is a leftist, anti-Islamist coalition of ethnic and religion minorities in Turkey that has sent Kurds, Christians, and women to Parliament. The party has called for supporting a peace process with the PKK and stronger military action against the Islamic State. Demirtaş personally has accused Erdogan of wanting to “establish a caliphate” and called the AKP “an extension of ISIS.”
The HDP has friendly relations with the Russia and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the Syrian Kurdish government — and its military wing, the YPG. The government of Turkey does not distinguish between the YPG and the PKK and has a tense relationship with the Russian government, as Moscow has repeatedly violated Turkish airspace in its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Sabah, an Erdogan-friendly Turkish publication, published a survey in March that found 93 percent of Turks support stripping HDP members accused of supporting the PKK of immunity and trying them on terrorism charges.
It is unclear what a second parliament would look like, or what Demirtaş specifically meant with the threat. Sabah reports that experts interpreted his words as “the signal of ‘a regional’ parliament, assembly or committee structure in line with HDP’s ‘democratic autonomy’ policy and regional autonomy demands for Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast.”
Bloomberg quotes Anthony Skinner, a director with U.K.-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, as calling such a move “illegal” in Turkey, his threat more significant as a marker of how deteriorated relations between Turkey’s ruling party and its minorities have become than a political maneuver.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the brawl earlier this week, blaming the HDP entirely for the affair. “They are attacking our legislators in order to prevent the process. They are trying to show parliament as a place for fighting, chaos and deadlock,” he told reporters. Davutoglu announced he would step down on Thursday, with publications speculating the reason for his decision to not run for another term the result of disagreements with Erdogan over the presidential system he is seeking to build — the system Demirtaş called a “caliphate.”
Demirtaş has called Davutoglu’s resignation a “coup”: “The people have elected you and the person at the palace wants to decide on who will rule this country. This is called a coup.” Other minority parties have issued similar statements in support of Davutoglu. “Davutoğlu’s resignation should not be perceived as an internal party issue; all democracy supporters must resist this palace coup,” the head of the nationalist Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said in response.
Erdogan issued a statement wishing Davutoglu well and asserting that he chose to step down, in direct contradiction to Davutoglu’s statement that leaving his post was “not my choice.”