Seven facts to know about Turkey’s immunity vote

Turkish Parliament approves a bill that will give courts the ability to prosecute Members of Parliament. Under the constitution MPs were previously immune from prosecution. The bill will impact 138 parliamentarians across all party lines.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkish lawmakers attend the immunity debate at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, on May 20, 2016.

Updated May 22, 2016

Turkish parliament has approved an important amendment to the Turkish constitution on May 20 in order to lift the immunity of 138 MPs facing criminal charges.

The move will pave the way for judicial proceedings to begin against Turkish lawmakers after presidential approval.

The constitutional change has been expected to be approved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan soon.

Turkish President Erdogan makes a speech during a ceremony in his hometown, the Black Sea city of Rize on May 20, 2016.

Here are seven facts needed to be known to understand Turkey’s heated debate on immunities:

1. AK Party wanted to change the constitutional rule of immunities

In Turkey like many other countries, lawmakers have been protected from any prosecution due to their political immunity.

It is a constitutional principle.

Turkey’s governing AK Party wanted to change this principle in order to allow legal proceedings to be launched against several deputies, mostly members of the HDP suspected of having links to the PKK.

 PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, the US, and NATO.

The HDP leadership and most of its members have been blamed for supporting PKK.

Binali Yildirim, possibly the new leader of Turkey's ruling AK Party, is surrounded by his fellow MPs as he attends the immunity debate at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, on May 20, 2016.

2. How Turkey could make a constitutional change

 A two third majority of the parliament is needed to make such a change according to the Turkish constitution.

That means AK Party needs backing from at least 367 MPs out of a total of 550-seat assembly.

Even if the party was short of that majority, the option of referendum would still be open.

The constitution says if the proposed change gets the support of a three fifths majority from the parliament, which means 330 votes, the president could bring it to a referendum.  

The constitution also states that deputies should be voting in a secret ballot to approve or reject any proposed constitutional amendment during parliamentary sessions which could not be more than two.

Parliamentarians attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, on June 23, 2015.

3. How the Turkish Parliament approved the amendment bill

At first, the constitutional amendment was discussed at parliament on Tuesday.

It did not receive the required majority of 367 to make the proposed change effective.

But it has received 347 votes which was more than 330, so it was good enough to carry the debate into a second round.

The second and last round on the immunity amendment was held on Thursday.

The two articles of the amendment were voted for back-to-back.

The first article received 373 votes while the second article got backing from 374 MPs.

Both articles collectively received backing from 376 MPs, while 140 lawmakers voted against the constitutional change.

That means the amendment bill has enough votes for a constitutional change, being well over the required majority of 367.

Women MPs of Turkey's governing AK Party pose after the immunity debate at Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, on May 20, 2016.

4. Who voted for or against the amendment

The amendment bill was largely supported both by AK Party which has 316 seats, and the opposition party MHP, which has 40 seats, in parliament.

But the results also indicate that some members of the main opposition party CHP voted in favour of the amendment.

The HDP deputies all casted their ballots against the proposed change.

A considerable number of CHP MPs also voted against the bill along with the HDP members.

MPs of Turkey's main opposition party CHP shout slogans as they leave the immunity debate at Turkish parliament in Ankara, on May 20, 2016.

5. Which MPs will be affected from the lifting of immunities

Out of the 138 lawmakers facing criminal charges, 27 of them belong to the governing AK Party.

51 MPs are from CHP and nine lawmakers are from MHP.

In addition, 50 deputies of HDP, which has a total of 59 seats in parliament, will potentially face prosecution.   

An independent former CHP deputy from Ankara, Aylin Nazliaka, is also among the 138 lawmakers facing criminal charges.

HDP MPs pose for a group picture at Turkish parliament in Ankara, on May 20, 2016.

6. What charges?

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag recently made a statement on the types of charges concerning the respective MPs.

He said most of the charges are connected to terror crimes, insulting, and violations of the law on meetings and demonstrations.

Also lawmakers could face prosecution on charges of injury, bullying, forgery, and defamation according to the minister.

Almost all of the HDP deputies have been facing charges concerning terrorism which refers to their alleged connections to the PKK.

Some CHP lawmakers have been accused of insulting the Turkish President.

Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag (L) attends a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of the founding of Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey in Ankara, Turkey on April 25, 2016.

7. What is the procedure for prosecution

Prosecution against the concerned lawmakers could be launched after Erdogan approves the immunity bill concerning constitutional change, which will make it effective.

Erdogan has a period of 15 days to make a decision, but many pundits predict he will most likely approve the bill that he has long supported. 

After the approval, the respective lawmakers will still hold their membership in parliament.

An MP will only lose their parliamentary status if he or she has been convicted of a certain crime.