The main opposition the Republican People’s Party (CHP), currently under fire over an astronomical communications bill of one of its lawmakers, sought to quell outrage by asking lawmaker Elif Doğan Türkmen to relieve her duties at Parliament’s presidential council. Türkmen hit the headlines recently for spending more than TL 1.2 million ($321,130) in one year for phone calls and sending print ads of her party from the unlimited budget provided by Parliament. Although she and party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu defended the astronomical bill by blaming Parliament instead for giving unlimited funds to deputies, the CHP apparently backtracked on Friday. A statement by the party’s press office said Kılıçdaroğlu asked Türkmen to resign from her post as member of the presidential council though Türkmen will be able to keep her seat as a lawmaker. Media outlets meanwhile reported that Türkmen refused to step down upon Kılıçdaroğlu’s call, claiming she did not do anything wrong.
In a statement in January, Türkmen has said she was not at fault for the bill. “I wasn’t informed about the cost and those who purchase communication services at overcharged prices and not informing us about the costs should be responsible for this,” she said in a brief statement and vowed to “continue her legislative duties.”
The bill was the result of a massive number of SMS text messages being sent to students before they took a university admission exam, wishing them good luck, along with expensive print invitations delivered to more than 1 million people within Türkmen’s electorate in southern Turkey for CHP rallies. The CHP is known for its staunch campaign to cut off high expenses of public officials. Türkmen’s bill corresponds to six years’ worth of a lawmaker’s monthly salary. Social media users questioned how she was unaware that sending so many text messages and print invitations would be very costly even if they were not “overcharged” as Türkmen claimed. The lawmaker’s January bill, meanwhile, already reached TL 700,000 according to reports in the media.
Parliament will discuss the privileges in communication expenses for lawmakers next week following the revelation of the astronomical bill and mull a limit to reimbursing the bills of lawmakers.
Türkmen is not alone in the list of CHP lawmakers spending too much on communications. Emre Köprülü and Özcan Purçu took advantage of the unlimited funds by spending TL 370,000 and 182,000, respectively, while expenses of other lawmakers remain relatively low.
Quoted by the Sabah newspaper, Ahmet Aydın, acting as Speaker of the Parliament, said the privilege of unlimited communications funds was first introduced in 1993 and no lawmaker has “used it so disproportionately so far.” Aydın also denied the claim of Türkmen that she was not informed about the costs and said the bills are regularly sent to every lawmaker.