AK Party may have to fight lone battle against closure

The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) set out tough conditions that analysts say will unlikely be accepted by the ruling party.

AK Party may have to fight lone battle against closure

The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said yesterday it could help the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) amend the Constitution to head off the threat of closure but set out tough conditions that analysts say will unlikely be accepted by the ruling party.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli insisted at a speech in Parliament that his party will support changes stipulating that members, not political parties, can face a ban, meaning that the AK Party's 71 senior members that a state prosecutor says should be banned from politics, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, a member of the party prior to becoming president, will not be protected even if the planned changes are passed in Parliament.

Bahçeli also said the alternative of a referendum on the changes should be avoided, warning it would lead to a "regime crisis."

The MHP leader's remarks are the harbinger of a new bone of contention that will add to the existing political tension and further unnerve markets. The chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals asked the Constitutional Court this month to close down the AK Party on charges of "becoming a focal point of anti-secular activities." The court has yet to decide whether to take up the case, but the resulting uncertainty has already unsettled financial markets and led to fears of political instability. The AK Party is planning to introduce a series of constitutional amendment proposals to head off the threat of closure as early as this week. An AK Party official said on Monday that his party will seek support from the MHP, but if that does not work, they might go to a referendum on Article 69 of the Constitution, which defines the rules political parties should abide by and how political parties can be closed. "It is of crucial importance that constitutional changes gain the majority support needed to avoid going to a referendum [on the issue]," Bahçeli said at a meeting of his party. "A referendum would mean gambling. Political imposition on these issues would lead to a regime crisis."

A political ban on senior party leaders, as advocated by the MHP, is hardly likely to be accepted by the AK Party, meaning that the AK Party may end up passing the constitutional changes on its own in Parliament and sending them to a public vote for approval.

The AK Party, which ahs denied the prosecutor's charges, holds a majority in Parliament but still needs the MHP's support to pass constitutional changes without having to submit them to referendum.

The AK Party has already planned to introduce changes to toughen party closures as part of its broader efforts to rewrite Turkey's Constitution, drafted after a military coup in 1980, and the current proposal "will speed that process up," PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday in Sarajevo, where he is on an official visit.

The ruling party has declined to give details of possible legal changes, but newspapers have reported that the constitutional amendments may be designed to limit party bans to those parties guilty of inciting violence or racism. Another proposal would require any party ban to be approved by Parliament.

The pro-establishment Republican People's Party (CHP) of Deniz Baykal has no sympathy for the planned changes. Addressing his party in Parliament yesterday, Baykal opposed the changes, saying that the amendment package will "place a major conflict at the heart of the state" and claimed that a referendum on the constitutional amendments will be equal to a "public vote on secularism."

"It is unacceptable to change the Constitution in order to undermine an ongoing court case. ... They will undermine the principle of secularism," Baykal said. Critics say a public vote on the planned changes will mean a vote on secularism because the AK Party faces closure for alleged anti-secular activities. The argument may be thinly supported, but it shows how it could turn into another bitter standoff on the "nature of the regime."

On Friday, a senior columnist of the staunchly anti-government daily Cumhuriyet was detained, along with a secularist former university rector and the leader of a small leftist party, for alleged links to a shadowy group called Ergenekon, referring to hard-line nationalists in Turkey's security forces and state bureaucracy ready to take the law into their own hands for the sake of their ideological agenda.

The detentions sparked outrage among secularist and anti-government circles, which accused the AK Party of taking revenge for the closure case. A chief state prosecutor denied charges that the Ergenekon investigation was linked to the closure case against AK Party on Monday. But suspicions remain as to the linkage; newspapers have reported that one of the detainees had a copy of the indictment in the closure case on his computer and that the copy was recorded two days before the prosecutor filed the charges against the AK Party.

Growing calls for restraint rejected

Fearful of more tension in the foreseeable future, Turkey's leading business group, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD), is seeking to form a front with other business groups to call for restraint.

A TÜSİAD delegation led by its chairwoman, Arzuhan Yalçındağ, met with Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Chairman Hisarcıklıoğlu to discuss the effects of recent developments in Turkey on democracy and social peace.

TÜSİAD had warned in a written statement released on Monday that the current polarization was about to be transformed into "social trauma" and called on government and opposition parties to exert their utmost efforts to ease tension in the society.

TÜSİAD is expected to continue meetings with other nongovernmental organizations, with Yalçındağ scheduled to meet today with representatives from the Turkish Tradesmen's and Artisans' Confederation (TESK), the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) and the Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union (Kamu-Sen).

But whether calls for moderation will have an impact is an open question; Erdoğan, responding to calls on him to cool off the tension, said yesterday that he was already calling for compromise and accused the media of "provocations" instead.

Erdoğan was responding to a question on a recent statement from İlhan Selçuk, the detained Cumhuriyet columnist, that it was a duty for the prime minister to ease tension. "I am asking Mr. Selçuk: What are we going to do about the provocative stance of his own newspaper and other newspapers against me and my party? I am ready to do more, but I also think it would be more accurate if those who want privileges stop doing this and start asking for justice instead," Erdoğan said in Sarajevo.

In Parliament, Baykal did not name TÜSİAD but openly rejected its calls for restraint. "Will there be no tension when the opposition stops talking? We shall stop talking and give the government a free hand to do whatever it wants, is this what we should do?" Baykal asked. "Those who want to ease the tension should have the courage to confront the government."

TÜSİAD's initiative seems to enjoy support in the business world. Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) President Oğuz Satıcı said TÜSİAD took a noteworthy step to call on everyone in Turkey to act with common sense. Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (MÜSİAD) Chairman Ömer Bolat noted that Turkey is currently being dragged into an atmosphere of chaos that would cause the country to turn into a place where democracy is put out of action.

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Last Mod: 26 Mart 2008, 07:26
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