ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's parliament on Thursday approved a series of contentious changes to its bylaws, which critics say aim to further curtail opposition voices.
The amendments to parliament's internal rules, among other things, reduce the time for legislators to speak during debates on bills and other discussions — a move opposition parties call an affront to democracy that is aimed at muzzling the opposition.
The government insists the changes will render parliament more effective. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is accused of increasing authoritarianism, has long criticized the opposition for allegedly obstructing the work of parliament.
The changes come as Turkey is engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on the alleged perpetrators of last year's failed military coup, which human rights group say has been broadened to include all government opponents. More than 50,000 people have been arrested and over 110,000 have been sacked from their government jobs.
Earlier Thursday, the Turkish parliament also voted to strip two legislators — Faysal Sariyildiz and Tugba Hezer — from the country's pro-Kurdish party of their parliamentary seat for absenteeism. The voting reduced the party's seats in the 550-member parliament to 55.
A dozen legislators from the Democratic People's Party, or HDP, have been arrested on terror-related charges, including the party's co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. The latter also lost her parliamentary seat earlier this year.
HDP legislators protested the vote by banging on desks, accusing the ruling party of double standards because it didn't take action against other lawmakers who fail to regularly attend sessions.
With the changes to the parliament's bylaws, legislators will now be punished for using certain words, including "Kurdistan" or "Kurdish province" — expressions frequently used by HDP legislators. Nationalists who backed the amendments regard the terms as an expression of separatist sentiment.
The amendments also changed parliament's dress code to allow the parliament speaker to wear a regular suit instead of a white tie and tailcoat. The parliament's speaker, a pro-Islamic politician, is known to be opposed to the tailcoat, which is seen as a symbol of Western culture.