ANKARA - TDN Parliament Bureau
Prompted by the Constitutional Court's decision in the closure case, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is now preparing to lift the political immunity of parliamentary deputies.
Political immunity is a long-running source of conflict in Turkish politics, going back at least to elections in 2002. The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of hiding behind his political immunity and has put pressure on the government to address the issue. The AKP has decided to introduce new legislation this year curbing political immunities and opening a debate on general ethics in politics.
The AKP plans to initiate proceedings by opening a broad debate on the draft for political ethics, something already studied by the domestic justice committee of the party as a way to curtail political immunity. The government intends to set up a consensus committee to secure the support of the opposition for its proposals. One proposal is to establish a permanent committee on political ethics in Parliament. The committee on ethics would be responsible for issues such as setting up criteria for when deputies can accept gifts.
Preliminary work by the government has shown that 34 other occupational groups, including members of the judiciary and public administrations also stand to benefit from political immunity. Therefore, the government aims to extend the restrictions of immunities to civilian and military personnel in its proposal.
Transparency in politics is another important part of the AKP's proposal and is set to be provided by amendments to the law on the basic regulation of elections and the law on parliamentary register. With the introduction of some new measures, the AKP aims to pave the way for the sponsorship of political parties and politicians, a tradition in U.S politics. According to the AKP's proposal, parties will have to open an “election account” in a bank and notify the Supreme Electoral Board, or YSK, within three days of the start of the election calendar. Parliamentary and mayoral candidates will have to do so after their candidacies are officially announced. Election accounts will have to be closed the day after elections and then the political parties will assign a representative along with a chartered accountant for transactions.
US style sponsorship of politics
The proposal introduces a measure for companies and holdings sponsoring political parties or politicians to be prevented from entering, directly or indirectly, public institutions in the next five years. However, individual sponsors, the identity of who is to be publicly revealed, will be exempt from this measure.
Parliamentary and mayoral candidates will be authorized to spend a maximum of YTL 5 per each elector in their constituency. According to this measure, a candidate having 500,000 registered voters in his constituency will not be able to exceed YTL 250,000. Spending per voter will be rearranged every year, according to the tax procedure law.
Real costs of service and goods, both abroad and at home, will constitute electoral spending. Electoral accounts are to be scrutinized by a committee of three officials, who will be appointed by YSK. Those who fail to open an electoral account or fail to submit the account number and relevant documents or exceed electoral spending will face the risk of the annulment of their deputyship or mayoralty by YSK. Political parties, which fail to meet the same requirements, will be reported to the Constitutional Court by the YSK, and risk the annulment of their votes.
Declaration of assets to be enforced
The AKP's proposal to increase transparency in politics also requires changes in the law regarding the declaration of assets, which will enable the state to confiscate those assets in case of unjustified benefit. AKP brass overrate this amendment proposal as an important measure for making deputy transfer among political parties harder. The current law already includes measures for confiscation in case of unjustified benefits, whereas the AKP aims to solidify the fines applied to those acquiring unjustified assets. By new legislation, up to 5,000 days' worth of fines could be applied, which is equivalent of nearly YTL 500,000 today.
Meanwhile new legislation will leave the door open for deputies to be shareholders in companies or sit on the executive board of those companies. However, companies providing seats for deputies will be exempt from public and privatization tenders.
Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan has already come out in support of new legislation to lift political immunities. “Western countries apply a soft model for immunities which include only criminal action and verbal offence. However in a strong model for immunities even motoring fines are included. When the new constitution is to be studied, political immunities in Turkey need to be discussed to ensure transition to a softer model,” Köksal said last week, while he revealed expectations for the next legislation year, to start Oct.1.
In Parliament there are currently 221 pending files of inquiry regarding the immunity of deputies, 75 of which have been postponed and the rest have not even been discussed.
Before Nov. 3, 2002, elections
Lifting of parliamentary immunities was one of the AKP's main campaign pledges. Immunity had become synonymous with political corruption and the party received huge support with this promise.
After 2002 elections
The AKP proposed to limit parliamentary immunities in conjunction with immunities enjoyed by state servants like judges, prosecutors or top military personnel. The proposal was rejected by the opposition.
Before July 22, 2007, elections
Lifting of the immunities was not part of the AKP's campaign for the July 22, 2007, elections. Many ministers, including PM Erdoğan, faced criminal charges but were immune from prosecution.
After 2007 elections
The AKP proposed to form a commission with other parties present in Parliament in order to agree on the limitations to impose on the immunities of deputies. Setting up an ethics committee was one suggestion.