Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), began a 280-mile march from Ankara to Istanbul on Thursday following the arrest of a CHP Member of Parliament. As Hurriyet Daily reports:
The protest decision was taken after CHP Istanbul deputy Berberoğlu was sentenced 25 years in prison on June 14 for “leaking state secrets” in the case into weapons-loaded Syria-bound trucks of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), prompting a storm of reaction from the CHP.
Kılıçdaroğlu is set to march over 24 days to Istanbul, a distance of around 450 km, to the city’s Maltepe Prison where Berberoğlu was taken. He will walk during the days and stop at locations on the way. [….]
“There is no democracy in Turkey. But our march is a festival. Actually we are looking for justice and we are not worried,” the CHP leader said.
On the one hand the first such arrest of a CHP MP is yet another norm violated by the Erdogan government as he consolidates near-dictatorial control of Turkey. But the march also reveals the failures of the CHP in opposing Erdogan’s rise to attaining that power.
MPs in Turkey had long been constitutionally protected from prosecution until a vote stripped of them of that immunity in May of last year. The degree of immunity enjoyed by legislators is of course open to debate, but the concept of some degree of legislative immunity is an important norm of representative government, as found, for example, in Article 1 Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution.
The CHP position on the immunity vote was muddled. The CHP leader made statements in support of stripping immunity, but a majority of CHP MPs voted against the measure. So long as those targeted for arrest were from the pro-Kurdish HDP, which has had its two party leaders and 9 other MPs jailed—not to mention a slew of mayors and other lower level HDP office holders in what seemed to be a targeted effort to suppress the Kurdish vote—the CHP has remained fecklessly silent. Insofar as Kılıçdaroğlu now claims to march for all of the wrongly imprisoned journalists, academics, and other victims of Erdogan’s purge, we wish him well. But this is awfully late in the day for him to be making the kind of principled stand for the norms of liberal representative government that Turkey has long needed.