Nergis Demirkaya / DUVAR
The Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) kicked off its new legislative session last week after a 76-day break. Major legislative moves - such as the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement - kicked off the session, but the remainder promises to be marked by an opposition who wants to focus on the economy and a return to a parliamentary system, pitted against a ruling coalition that wants to focus on a new constitution and changing election and social media laws.
In his speech to open the session, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan focused on foreign policy, the economy, and his hopes that parliament would be able to pass a new constitution. In the lead-up to the 2023 elections - which look increasingly difficult for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) - the President has called for a new constitution that is shorter, with fewer immutable articles, which incorporates religious values.
The AKP’s coalition partner, the ultranationalist National Movement Party (MHP) has already submitted their draft constitution, while the AKP is expected to present theirs at the end of the year. Opposition parties are working jointly on proposals that would chart a return to a parliamentary system.
Two of the landmark AKP agenda items mentioned by President Erdoğan in his speech were the social media and the election law. Framed as a means of “combatting disinformation,” the social media law criminalizes “disinformation” and “misinformation,” and spreading either on social media can lead to a five-year prison sentence. Free speech advocates are worried that the law could be used as a means of silencing dissent in a country where opposition perspectives are called misinformation by the government.
The election law aims to lower Turkey’s election threshold (currently at 10 percent for a party to enter parliament) to 7 percent, limit lawmakers’ ability to change parties, increase requirements to participate in elections, and overhaul the election system. The law also proposes an increase in electoral areas. This is broadly seen as an attempt to rig the election system so that the ruling AKP-MHP coalition might be able to win in the 2023 elections. With the current electoral system, it seems increasingly likely that they will lose.
According to information received from AKP sources, it does not seem likely for the ruling coalition to bring its legislative proposals on social media and election laws to parliament this year. The AKP-MHP coalition is still working to shape the draft bills and plans to publicize them in 2022.
Earlier this week, TBMM completed the first large agenda item on its docket - the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement. Turkey has refused to sign the agreement since 2016, arguing that it needed to be included among developing nations who receive monetary benefit per the agreement. The passage of the accord, in which countries commit to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius and lower greenhouse gas emissions to zero, makes Turkey the final G20 nation to sign on.
Another major agenda item expected to be discussed is updates to Turkey’s tax code. The sixty-five item tax proposal put forth by the ruling AKP plans to “reduce informality and increase tax compliance.” The proposal would aim to streamline tax payments but also exempts approximately 850,000 tradespeople who have a turnover of less than 240,000 Turkish Liras a year. It also includes streamlining tax payments for small businesses, including YouTubers.
Another large agenda item expected to be discussed this term is the regulation of sports clubs. The legislation, which is years in the making, aims to increase financial transparency for these clubs and to hold club managers accountable for debt accumulated by teams. The legislation will also require that all clubs be managed as joint-stock companies, not associations and that they will be managed by the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sports.
There are also social benefit items on the agenda, such as the establishment of more women-owned cooperatives and legislation to better regulate professionals working in the field of mental health in Turkey.
Budget proposals will also need to be submitted to the parliament by Oct. 17. Current budget proposals from the AKP include enormous increases in spending on pro-AKP government bodies, such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).
Parliament also re-starts with an opposition newly united in their efforts to overhaul Erdoğan’s presidential system. On Oct. 5, six opposition parties met for the third time to present their visions for a return to a parliamentary system - a plan that AKP members have called “undemocratic.” The opposition, according to Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy group chair Engin Altay, also hopes to focus on economic reform to combat skyrocketing prices and inflation in the country.
“There are no exorbitant prices, there is very high inflation stemming from Erdoğan, very high exchange rates, and very high unemployment,” he said. He argued that the parliament should no longer just be a “spectator” to this.
Pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) group deputy chair Saruhan Oluç expressed contentment at the Paris Climate Accord’s place at the top of the agenda. He also highlighted HDP proposals put forth that would benefit workers and citizens impacted by the knock-on effects of the pandemic which were not discussed last term.
“We have submitted many law proposals for workers, laborers, and shopkeepers who were victimized during the pandemic,” he said. “These were not brought forth last year. We hope that the Assembly will do its part on these issues in the new session and distribute various support packages.”
He also argued that Turkey needs a budget “for the people,” and that if the election and social media laws are brought forth, his party will oppose them.
İYİ Party (Good Party) deputy chair Musavat Dervişoğlu also brought attention to his party’s proposals that were not brought forth last session and highlighted the need for a “healthier legislative process” this term.