[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
As if we did not have enough political problems, a new one has just been created by the judiciary: At least three of the newly elected members of Parliament have been barred from their new job by court decisions.
Their cases are not the same, though. First, there is the curious case of Hatip Dicle, the famous Kurdish politician who got elected as an independent candidate. The Supreme Election Board decided to strip him of his eligibility to join Parliament because of the sentence he got for violating the “Terror Law.” The Turkish Constitution says that anyone who is sentenced for any crime with a penalty of more than a year in prison cannot represent the nation. And Dicle’s sentence, which was ratified only weeks before the election, seems to render him ineligible.
In other words, Dicle’s loss of seat looks totally kosher on paper. But in reality, there is no doubt that the Kurdish masses that support him and his comrades at the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, will see this as yet another act of discrimination and humiliation. No wonder the BDP threatens to boycott Parliament entirely with its 35 elected candidates – a dangerous idea that would only escalate tension and violence in the Kurdish southeast.
Besides that, the “crime” of Mr. Dicle is nothing but a mere expression of opinion. In a speech, he defined the terror attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as “legitimate self-defense.” This might be a shocking statement for most Turks, but it is only a common view among the Kurds. In fact, pro-PKK statements like that is the exact reason why figures such as Mr. Dicle get votes from the pro-PKK segment in the Kurdish community.
Therefore, it is not just a political but also a moral necessity to find a way to bring Mr. Dicle into the Turkish Parliament. But this can only be done after Parliament convenes and begins legislation. (A similar “rescue operation” was carried out for none other than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2002, when he was similarly ineligible to be elected to Parliament, but came in three months later through a by-election.)
In other words, the “independents” of the BDP should not boycott Parliament, as they threaten now. But the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, should also take an initiative, by announcing that they will do everything they can to open the way for Mr. Dicle. A few AKP members issued remarks which implied such a solution, but they were not reassuring enough. Erdoğan needs to speak on this urgently. And, meanwhile, the AKP Diyarbakır candidate who opportunistically stepped in to fill the seat emptied by Dicle, Oya Eronat, should step aside.
AKP should move
The other two names that are blocked from Parliament, Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, are from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. Unlike Mr. Dicle, they are not sentenced yet. They are just under arrest, while being tried in the famous Ergenekon case, which is about an alleged coup attempt against the AKP government. Since they are not sentenced yet, they are eligible to be in Parliament. The only problem is that they are in prison and their judges, contrary to what was expected, did not let them go.
But another figure, Sebahat Tuncel of the BDP, was similarly in prison when she was elected in 2007, and then she was set free to join Parliament. So, not applying the same procedure to Balbay and Haberal seems like a double standard. They, too, should be set free and take their seats in the Grand National Assembly.
In short, all of this seems to be yet another blow to democracy by Turkey’s illiberal laws and illiberal judges. But it is none other than the governing AKP who needs to find a solution. They should urgently promise to do that, and, once Parliament convenes, should lead the legal arrangements that will allow all their elected opponents take their seats. If they do that, they will prove democratic and noble. Otherwise, they will look unprincipled and opportunistic.