Thursday, 12 January 2012

Calling Erdoğan’s bluff, Kılıçdaroğlu raises the stakes

With Turkey’s political stand-off intensifying, I felt a brief follow-up to Monday’s post is needed.

That post discussed the implications of the arrest of former Chief of Staff Ilker Başbuğ as part of the increasingly vast Ergenekon coup investigation. But the criticism heaped on that arrest by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the opposition CHP, has opened a new and even more dramatic chapter in Turkey’s latest political crisis.

An investigation was launched against Kılıçdaroğlu for “influencing a fair trial”, with prosecutors asking for his legal immunity to be lifted so he can be charged; the CHP hit back by saying this demonstrates that the judiciary is now a tool of the government.

Now the opposition has raised the stakes further and called Prime Minister Erdoğan’s bluff: Kılıçdaroğlu, followed by his party, have applied to the Justice Ministry to have their immunity lifted and thus go to court for their criticism.

This is a bold move and it puts the AKP on the back foot. The government holds a majority in parliament, where removal of immunity would have to be approved, so it can decide whether or not to fulfil the opposition request.

Refusing to lift the CHP deputies’ immunity would de-escalate the crisis but would also be portrayed as a climbdown by the government. Agreeing would raise the farcical if appalling sight of the country’s biggest opposition party being placed en masse into the dock. With the pro-Kurdish BDP already refusing to play by parliament’s rules and under attack from the AKP, this would turn the legislature into a shambles.

Erdoğan remains in a fiery mood. He is now calling the BDP an “extension” of the CHP in the Kurdish southeast, and has accused both parties of supporting the Kurdish militant group the PKK. This may be a legitimate criticism to hurl at the BDP but to start accusing the CHP of being in cahoots with the PKK – on which it has taken a hard line, historically – smacks of desperation and fear-mongering.

Ironically, the probe against Kılıçdaroğlu has made him more powerful than ever before. Not only has it given the CHP common cause with the BDP and the nationalist MHP, both of which have slammed the government; it will also quell dissent in the CHP ranks, forcing the party’s factions to unite around their leader.

The government may have miscalculated, allowing the CHP to turn the mild, professorial Kılıçdaroğlu into a potent symbol of resistance to government oppression. Ironically, this is the kind of trick that the AKP has used so successfully in the past.

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