Turkey to consider ban on Islamic ruling party

Turkey's top court voted Monday to hear a case for banning its Islamic party due to anti-secularism.

turkey224,88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The decision could lead to months of political uncertainty in a nation divided over the role of Islam in society. The 11-member Constitutional Court agreed to hear the case for dissolving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party on grounds that it is threatening Turkey's secular principles, deputy court chairman Osman Paksut said. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party will seek the support of opposition parties to amend the constitution to make it more difficult for the party to be closed, senior lawmaker Nihat Ergun said. The party has 340 seats in the 550-member parliament. Constitutional amendments require at least 367 votes. However, if the proposed amendment receives at least 330 votes, the president could call for a referendum on the changes. "Today's court decision was not a detailed evaluation about the content of the case. The court only decided that the case was admissible," said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University. "However, the legal process will disturb the governing party." Turan noted that although closing down parties are not really compatible with democracy, "it was a pretty common practice," in Turkey. "The ruling party had no reaction when the chief prosecutor sought to disband a pro-Kurdish party," Turan said, referring to a case against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party on charges of ties to Kurdish rebels. By law, the governing party has one month to prepare its initial defense. The party can ask for an extension, which would be subject to approval by the court. If it is shut down, its members could regroup under the banner of a new party to lead the government. However, a ban on the party could slow or derail government policies, including reforms linked to Turkey's bid to join the EU. The top court previously closed two political parties deemed to be anti-secular in 1998 and 2001. "This is a fight between the Islamists and secularists harking back to early 1900s. It is not a simple case about a party," said Nihat Ali Ozcan of the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara. He said the legal process would "chip away at the power of the governing party while relaxing the secularists who fear that the secular regime is at stake." The government says it will uphold secular principles, and has criticized the prosecutor's case as antidemocratic. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was concerned about efforts to ban the governing party and suggested the issue could have ramifications for Turkey's EU membership bid.