The Turkish parliament’s 27th legislative term and fourth legislative year, 2021, will go down in history. This year has proven that legislation itself can be destructive, at a frightening scale and speed. When said destruction ensues, the opposition blames the government, but they share in the burden via the votes against they did not cast and the votes for some did.
In this legislative year, the General Assembly of parliament convened 105 times. One would expect full participation from our deputies, but that was not the case. There were 23 voting sessions in these assemblies. One would also expect deputies to participate in those sessions. They did not. When they did participate in the voting, they mostly voted in favor of government policies.
The reason for this is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has the majority of the seats in parliament. Thus, there was little for the opposition deputies and parties to do. The deputies also had businesses outside of parliament. Their parties would assign them jobs that would interfere with their parliamentary attendance. For example, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had to explain why 34 of its deputies voted ‘against’ after the Tourism Law debates and 101 deputies were not present due to “sicknesses and assignments.”
The cost of this action or non-action has been a heavy burden to bear. Between January 1 and August 5, more than 157,000 hectares of forests and bushes burned across the country. This area is bigger than the entire southern province of Antalya. Turkey has lost countless trees, animals, birds, beetles, and living creatures.
Now we understand why the opposition hid the legislative processes from the public. The bill that has passed was also hidden from the public. If people knew about this bill, even the government would have had to step back. Isn’t it interesting that the AKP Bursa deputy voted against the bill while the opposition İYİ Party (Good Party) voted in favor of the notorious Tourism Law, which allowed for burned down forest areas to be transformed into touristic facilities?
These fires have made the position of our parliamentarians very clear: We are stuck with a bill that belonged to the ruling government first, then the opposition, which did not even participate in parliamentary sessions. We paid for an opposition that tried hard for the public, but it has not taken part in the legislative process. We have instead gotten opposition-approved AKP policies. The 80 laws that passed this legislative year and the 55 international treaties within them depict these realities: First, the opposition is not doing its job; Second, the opposition is making excuses; Third, they are supporting the government while the government does not even need its support.
The most striking aspect of this whole situation is how reluctant political parties are to represent the principles and policies they agree to in their party programs in the parliament. This is partly related to the assertion that the parliament is ineffective. However, these laws passed in parliament are still affecting the lives of Turkish citizens. Consequently, the votes that are cast for the opposition during parliamentary elections are not being represented in any way. Even if the voters vote for opposition parties, the opposition deputies that represent them are either indifferent or absent at the sessions in which the ruling party’s bills are voted on. Or, even worse, they vote directly to approve them. In other words, the opposition energy in the society is not being translated into parliament.
It can also be said that the non-ruling parties are following policy that ultimately strengthens the regime established by the government via the tools of parliament. Criticisms are dismissed by arguments such as “the parliament does not function” or that the government does not abide by laws anyway. However, those laws passed by parliament have binding, restrictive, and limiting effects on the lives of ordinary citizens, i.e. the voters.
Wanted: 120 deputies
Since the forest fires began on July 28, politicians seem to have forgotten their responsibility in parliament. They are out there criticizing the government, but the opposition is not fulfilling its duty. According to Article 93 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the Parliamentary Regulation, the current recess of parliament can end with the signature of only 120 deputies. Thus, the controversial Tourism Law and other laws that contribute to the destruction of forests can be opened to parliamentary debate. But this has not happened. Thus far, only Felicity Party (SP) Konya deputy Abdülkadir Karaduman, HDP Kocaeli deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu and four deputies from the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) have signed.
The İYİ Party refuses to let their 36 deputies sign, even though 14 of their deputies approved the Tourism Law. The party justifies these affirmative votes by their recorded dissenting opinion. However, this shows that the party, despite its dissenting opinion, does not wholly disapprove of the law.
The main opposition CHP can put forth 135 signatures, but it has made no progress toward doing so. The fact that CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has not participated in a single parliamentary session in this legislative year and has not once voted against AKP draft laws, alongside seven other deputies from his party, obligates them to sign the call. The CHP has now become the party most supportive of the government after the coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The position of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is worse than the CHP. Because the party has not explained the Tourism Law to the public, despite its supposed support of ‘environmental policy.’ It has not explained it to its party members either. It is embarrassing that only 15 deputies voted against the bill and 41 deputies abstained. Six of their deputies have never voted in any session. Their co-chairs have voted two or three times. HDP Co-chair Mithat Sancar is an academic who has studied constitutional law. Yet he has not called on parliament to convene.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar did not oppose the Tourism Law as they have not even voted against it. This is disappointing for CHP and HDP voters.
Start of a solution
Are you among those who believe the parliament is dysfunctional? Do you think the opposition deputies and parties are powerless? Or do you think they should resign and risk the AKP gaining absolute power?
This kind of a ‘His majesty’s opposition’ is our fault. We did not follow up on our votes and we did not hold them accountable. Deputies rarely inform us that is bill is about to be discussed. However, the same deputies make a huge fuss after the bill has passed. Why is that? Look at the deputies who criticize the government on TV. None of them bothered to join the session and vote against the law. They can do this because no one questions their action.
Do you think the deputies who won’t let the public participate in debates will be able to re-activate the THK firefighting planes? The opposition deputies have worked for the government for the entire legislative year. They have attended sessions at a 50 percent rate and have even cast positive votes. We need to open the parliament to the court of public opinion. Our deputies should not only represent us but all the animals suffering across our country. For that to happen, we must collect 120 signatures and open parliament, which is on its annual recess while the country burns.
The government seems to have only one motivation and that is to turn our country into cash. Our motivation is much simpler. If this motivation is reflected in the parliament, things will change. This is where hope lies.