The Turkish parliament approved the first clause of a bill to lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution on Friday; a constitutional change that the pro-Kurdish opposition has warned could see its parliamentary presence all but wiped out.
In a secret ballot, 373 MPs in the 550-seat parliament backed the plan to lift MPs’ immunity from prosecution, a high enough level of support to change the constitution directly without needing to hold a referendum.
The assembly was set to hold two further votes on elements of the bill on Friday, which will determine the final outcome.
The pro-Kurdish HDP, parliament’s third-biggest party, was accused by President Tayyip Erdogan of being the political wing of Kurdish militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in the country’s largely Kurdish southeast. However, the HDP denies these accusations.
Erdogan’s opponents see that such lifting of immunities is infact a part of a plan to push the HDP out of parliament, back the ruling AK Party, and consolidate support in the assembly for the executive presidential system he has long chased .
HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas stated this month that the lifting of immunities will probably lead to more violence and repress democratic politics. Noting that lawmakers enjoy immunity from prosecution at the current time. The new law will allow prosecutors to purse members of parliament who currently face investigation: 138 deputies, of whom 101 are from the HDP and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The HDP has said an overwhelming majority of its 59 deputies could be jailed, mostly for views they have expressed, virtually wiping out its parliamentary presence.