A series of constitutional amendments planned by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to make party closures more difficult have been transformed into a mini democracy package in hopes that the governing party may receive the support of opposition parties on the changes.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AK Party has speeded up its preparations to amend articles 68 and 69 of the Constitution, which regulate the closure of political parties, in a move to make it more difficult to disband political parties in Turkey, particularly after the Constitutional Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal to disband the governing AK Party and ban 71 of its members from politics.
Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya had petitioned the top court on March 14, demanding that the AK Party be shut down on grounds that it has become a focal point of "anti-secular activities."
With opposition parties reluctant to support these changes, the AK Party has decided to turn the amendments into a mini democracy package so that opposition parties will support them.
The ombudsman law, of crucial importance in the EU harmonization process, has already been included in the package, and the AK Party is considering taking significant steps toward a revocation of parliamentary immunity. The ruling party is also considering including an amendment to notorious the Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), an article that criminalizes denigrating Turkishness -- a vague concept that has been exploited by overzealous prosecutors to charge intellectuals and writers expressing criticism of the state -- provided that the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is persuaded as to its inclusion.
The planned constitutional amendments seek to allow only the closure of political parties which have engaged in terrorist or separatist activities, as is the case in EU member countries, which means the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) will not be able to benefit from the changes.
Yalçınkaya appealed to Turkey's top court in November 2007 to shut down the DTP, claiming that it has become a hotbed of terrorist activities and that it had links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The AK Party is also considering introducing a new system in which a Supreme Court of Appeals chief prosecutor would be required to secure permission either from Parliament or the government to file a closure case against a political party. Whether or not a prosecutor will be obliged to obtain permission from the government or Parliament will become certain following negotiations with parties that support the planned changes.
AK Party officials have not turned a blind eye to a proposal put forward by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli during a parliamentary group gathering on Tuesday. Bahçeli suggested imposing sanctions on party officials instead of closing down political parties, a proposal that would make party closures more difficult but would not save senior AK Party members from being banned from politics.
The AK Party, however, is considering scrapping barring people from engaging in political activity. Instead, those who are considered responsible for a closure case to be opened against their party will not be allowed to run in the next elections.
The ruling party plans to present the constitutional amendments to leaders of other political parties once the changes are complete. The DTP has already announced that it will support any kind of changes made to the Constitution, but the AK Party is not expected to consider including any proposal from the DTP in the constitutional amendment.
The main secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), however, declared it is against the idea of amending the Constitution to make party closures more difficult.
If the opposition parties refuse to support the AK Party's amendment package, the changes may end up being put to a public vote. The CHP believes this would mean a public vote on the principle of secularism as the AK Party faces closure over charges of anti-secular activities.
Party officials not allowed to speak to the press
The AK Party decided during a Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting on Tuesday that no party officials apart from Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün and AK Party Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat can speak to the press on the party closure case. The AK Party's defense statement against closure will be presented to the Constitutional Court by a board made up of several party legislators, including Fırat, former Parliament Speaker and current Manisa deputy Bülent Arınç and parliamentary group deputy chairman Sadullah Ergin.
Unanimous decision proposal abandoned
The AK Party's legal experts have withdrawn a proposal that required a unanimous Constitutional Court decision on party closures and not just a majority vote, as in the current practice. Currently the Constitutional Court can decide to shut down a political party with a two-thirds majority (7-4).
While some deputies have argued that a provisional article should be added to the Constitution that will render current party closure cases at the Constitutional Court null and void, the AK Party refrained from doing so as it may spark criticism of the party, making it difficult for the MHP to lend support to the amendments. At present there are closure cases against the pro-Kurdish DTP and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) at the Constitutional Court. For this reason, the AK Party will not include provisional articles in the constitutional amendments. The Constitutional Court is required to base its ruling on the amendments and, therefore, such provisional articles are not needed, the legal experts say.
A mini package of democratic reforms
The AK Party, having realized that it would take some time before the new Constitution drafted by a commission of academics chaired by Professor Ergun Özbudun is introduced to Parliament, has decided to give priority to part of this Constitution. Thus, the package of constitutional amendments initially devised against party closures has evolved into a mini package of democratic reforms. This may help secure support of other parties to the package, political analysts say.
Office of ombudsman enters Constitution
This mini democratic package will contain some of the harmonization bills long demanded by the EU. The most important of them is the ombudsman bill. This bill had previously been vetoed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on grounds that the Constitution does not make any reference to the office of ombudsman. While this bill is not currently on Parliament's agenda, amending only one article of the Constitution will be sufficient to ensure its compliance with the Constitution.
First step toward lifting parliamentary immunity
The MHP has been promoting the lifting of parliamentary immunity as a precondition for its support for the constitutional amendments that will make party closures difficult. Therefore, the AK Party will include the new constitution's provisions on parliamentary immunity in its mini package, partially meeting the MHP's precondition. The AK Party argues that immunity not only of deputies but also of bureaucrats and members of the judiciary should be eliminated. The MHP insists that parliamentary immunity should be abolished in the first instance.
Under the provisions of the new constitution concerning parliamentary immunity, a deputy will never be charged for his or her legislative work. In the closure case against the AK Party, the prosecutor demands that Nurettin Canikli and Mustafa Elitaş, deputy chairmen of the AK Party's parliamentary group, should be banned from political activity on charges of undersigning a bill that has lifted the headscarf ban.
The AK Party is also considering including amendments to the long-disputed Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) in the mini package, but to do this, it has to convince the MHP. To this end, Deputy Prime Minister Çiçek is expected to hold a special meeting with senior MHP officials.
Last Mod: 03 Nisan 2008, 07:40