| GEO World|
| Turkish top court to decide ruling party’s fate|
| Updated at: 1009 PST, Sunday, July 27, 2008|
ANKARA: Turkey's top court begins deliberations Monday on whether to shut down the country's ruling party, which won a decisive victory in legislative elections just one year ago by bagging 47 percent votes and parliament’s 341 seats out of 550.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has its roots in a banned Islamist party, stands accused of violating the principle of secularism enshrined in the Turkish constitution. AKP rejects the charges as politically motivated and argues that it is facing a "judicial coup" to oust it from office. Observers say outlawing the party could plunge Turkey into political chaos and impact membership talks with the European Union besides hitting the economy at a time of global financial jitters and rising energy prices.
The Constitutional Court has said that it will convene on a daily basis
until the 11 judges reach a verdict. Apart from a ban on the party, the prosecutor has also called for the court to bar President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and 69 AKP officials from party politics for five years. The ruling can go one of three ways: The court can shut down the AKP and impose political bans on Erdogan and his colleagues; it can completely or partially cut treasury aid to the party or it can throw out the case. AKP is accused of becoming a "focal point" of anti-secular activity aimed at steering the country away from its secular system and towards an Islamist regime.
A court-appointed rapporteur advised the judges in a non-binding report last week to acquit the party of the charges, arguing that its actions fall under the scope of freedom of expression. But the Constitutional Court has a history of ignoring such recommendations
and, some analysts suggest, may not be swayed by concerns over the fallout of its decision. "Wider considerations, such as the impact on the country's political and economic stability caused by a ban on the AKP, are not likely to play a significant role in the judges' decision," Wolfango Piccoli from Eurasia group, a political risk consultancy firm in London, said in a note to investors.
The same tribunal had delivered a major blow to the AKP last month when it scrapped a government-sponsored constitutional amendment lifting a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in universities. The amendment, which the court said violated the principle of secularism,
was among the chief examples cited by the prosecutor as evidence of the AKP's
alleged opposition to the separation of state and religion.
If the court does ban the AKP, then its deputies are expected to regroup
under a different name and call snap elections before the end of the year, most
likely in autumn, analysts say.
If the court bans Erdogan from party politics, he could return to
parliament by running as an independent.
Recent polls indicate the AKP is still Turkey's most popular party and
would garner more than 40 percent of the vote if there were an election today.
Regardless of which way the court decides, the long-running power struggle
between the AKP and the secularist camp, which includes the army, the judiciary
and academia, looks set to continue, according to political analyst Rusen
"An acquittal will strengthen the AKP's hand, while a ban on the party will
strengthen those of its foes. But neither look like they will throw in the
towel," he wrote in the Vatan newspaper.
The AKP, which insists it has disavowed its Islamist roots, first came to
power in 2002 and won kudos for following a pro-EU and business-friendly path
and avoiding an all-out confrontation with hardcore secularists.
Critics say, however, that since it was re-elected last year, the party
focused on moves enhancing its religious image at the expense of EU-oriented
democracy reforms, strengthening suspicions that it has a secret Islamist