Turkey's main opposition party said none of its newly elected lawmakers would take the oath in parliament's swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, joining a Kurdish party that is boycotting the session in a protest over court rulings that stripped one legislator of his seat and refused to release eight others from jail.
The protest by the two opposition parties is a setback to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pledge to build bridges and seek consensus with the opposition as it prepares to draft a new constitution to replace one drafted during military rule. Erdogan won a third term in office in elections on June 12.
The opposition parties argue that the jailed lawmakers are entitled to parliamentary immunity that would free them from jail because they are still on trial and have not been convicted. They are calling on Erdogan's party to rapidly enact changes allowing them to take up their parliamentary seats.
But Erdogan has indicated his party had no immediate plans for an amendment, saying the problem would be solved later with a more democratic constitution. He criticized the parties for nominating jailed candidates.
"Could they not have found other candidates?" he asked late Monday. "They nominated these people knowing that it would cause such a problem."
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, said his party's lawmakers would go to parliament on Tuesday but would not take the oath.The party won 135 seats in a 550-member parliament.
"We will not be part of this undemocratic approach," Kilicdaroglu said. "We will not take the oath until the path is opened for our friends to take the oath as well."
Last week, a Kurdish party, which won 35 seats, had said it would boycott all parliamentary proceedings until the government takes "concrete steps" to allow the lawmakers to take up seats in the assembly.
Three of the jailed lawmakers are on trial, accused of being part of an alleged secularist plot to bring down Erdogan's government, which has its roots in Turkey's Islamic movement. Two of them - journalist Mustafa Balbay and doctor Mehmet Haberal - were elected on the ticket of Kilicdaroglu's secular party, while the third belongs to the right-wing Nationalist Action Party. All three have denied any part in the alleged conspiracy against Erdogan.
Five independent politicians, backed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, are on trial for alleged links to the Kurdish rebels, who are fighting Turkish troops for autonomy in southeast Turkey.
Last week, Turkey's electoral board also ruled that Kurdish politician Hatip Dicle does not qualify to become a legislator because of his recent conviction on charges of orchestrating propaganda on behalf of the rebels. A high court confirmed his conviction and a 20-month prison sentence, just days before the elections. Dicle's parliamentary seat went to a candidate from Erdogan's ruling party.