The atmosphere within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was one of shock on Friday when news hit the media in the early evening hours that the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals had applied to the Constitutional Court for the party's closure on charges anti-secular activities.
But they were quick to get over the initial surprise and resolved to remain calm at all costs at the end of an ad hoc meeting on Friday night.
The AK Party has decided to set up a committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek to defend itself against Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya's indictment. Another decision that came out of Friday's meeting was to warn all party administrators and deputies not to speak to the media about the closure case unless instructed otherwise by the party administration.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan convened his party's Central Executive Board (MYK) on Friday night to decide on a course of action in response to the charges, shortly after news of the prosecutor's application to the Constitutional Court was heard. The AK Party's senior members with legal backgrounds, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, Deputy Chairman Denigir Mir Mehmet Fırat, Deputy Chairman Haluk İpek and the deputy leader of the AK Party's parliamentary group, Sadullah Ergin, gathered for an initial assessment. Later, former members of the Welfare Party (RP) and the Virtue Party (FP) -- both of which were shut down by rulings of the Constitutional Court -- joined the meeting.
Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin, Deputy Prime Ministers Çiçek and Hayati Yazıcı, Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay, who also holds a degree in law, Deputy Chairman Fırat and deputy leaders of the party's parliamentary group Ergin and Bekir Bozdağ will be members of the committee that handles the closure case. They began reviewing in detail the accusations of the indictment charging the AK Party with being a "focal point of anti-secular activities." Although a number of AK Party deputies volunteered to help in the defense process, Prime Minister Erdoğan asked everyone to remain calm, sources in the party said.
In accordance with the decision made at the MYK meeting, the senior members of the party will remain silent on the closure case until the committee set up to deal with the case reviews every item in the indictment and completes its initial research.
All deputies have been warned to remain calm at all times. In the past 44 years, 16 political parties facing closure cases have been vindicated by Constitutional Court rulings. The AK Party believes it will be the 17th such party. Twenty-four political parties have been shut down in the same period.
The AK Party members with backgrounds in law say their party differs radically from the RP and the FP, which were both shut down over the same charges. They think the prosecutor's indictment -- which references a speech by Prime Minister Erdoğan stating that the headscarf should not be banned in universities even if it is a political symbol and alcohol bans imposed by some AK Party municipalities as evidence for its anti-secularism allegations -- does not make a strong case. These deputies say Yalçınkaya has made some serious legal errors in his indictment. They also note that Konya deputy Hüsnü Tuna and Isparta Mayor Hasan Balaban were referred to the disciplinary board of the party for anti-secular remarks that are included in the indictment, which means they are not strong evidence. They say the fact that prosecutor Yalçınkaya overlooked the AK Party's response to these statements will be highlighted in their defense statement.
The indictment also lists amendments made to two articles in the Constitution to put an end to a nearly two-decade-old ban against the headscarf on university campuses. However, the two articles are being challenged legally at the Constitutional Court by the opposition. AK Party lawyers state that it would be impossible, technically, to shut down a party over articles about which a legal process is still under way. They also point out that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which backed the constitutional amendments concerning the headscarf, is not facing any charges; making their defense case even stronger.
The prosecutor's case also demands that senior AK Party members and President Abdullah Gül, who used to be a senior member of the party, be barred from engaging in political activity for the next five years. The AK Party's deputies dealing with the closure case note that under Turkish law, the president can only be tried on charges of treason. In other words, the prosecutor's demand for a political ban on Gül is a political rather than a legal action. Deputy Prime Minister Çiçek, known for his skills in oratory, will present the AK Party's defense testimony in court.
The AK Party says it will remain calm in the face of the closure case primarily to preserve Turkey's precarious economic balance and to avoid hurting domestic and international politics. AK Party Ankara deputy Salih Kapusuz, who spoke to Sunday's Zaman on Friday night, said: "We are used to dealing with closure cases. Unfortunately, Turkey cannot rid itself of this shame. However, this is arguably the most hilarious charge for closure. There is no need for panic. We will evaluate the issue from all perspectives and make a defense based on our common intellect. I don't believe that the Constitutional Court will shut down a party for those reasons [cited in the indictment]."
The first official announcement on behalf of the AK Party was made by Fırat. In his brief speech after the AK Party meeting, he said: "Thinking about the future of Turkey is not just the duty of the AK Party. Those who hurt Turkey will pay in history for what they do. It is again our responsibility to invite our nation to act with common sense. We will, until the very end, own up to the responsibility of representing the nation entrusted to us on July 22. We will not allow the eradication of the democratic advances our nation has made. Some judicial organs should stop using the law as an instrument for power struggles. Everyone will need the law at some point. Democracy and the law cannot be poised against each other. Turkey does not deserve such a scene."
Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Mart 2008, 09:56