Turkey: Deputy Chief Prosecutor’s lawsuit against governing party contributes to a growth of its popularity
Once again the clouds are gathering over Turkey which seemingly stood on the path of progress and stability. On Mar. 14, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the High Court of Appeals of the country Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya brought charges against the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) demanding it be closed. According to the Deputy Chief Prosecutor, the purpose of the JDP is, firstly, to introduce a type of a state administration on the principles of moderate Islam and then build up a state based on the Shariath. The republic is currently under a great menace, A. Yalcinkaya particularly notes.
The main reason for filing the lawsuit to the Constitutional Court was the fact that, in February, 2008 the Turkish parliament approved the governmental bill, allowing women to wear hijabs (Muslim headscarfs) in the institutions of higher education of Turkey.
It should be observed, that the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (NMP) played a significant role in approving these amendments in the Constitution. Seventy members of this party supported the amendments. On the other hand, Turkish “anticlericalists”, led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (PRP), reckon these amendments have nothing to do with the principles of laicism (a movement that demands religion be separated from social life) and are aimed to form a religious state. The passing of the bill preceded the meetings of the secular state supporters in many cities of the country.
Prime Minister and President among “personae non grata”
The claim of the Deputy Chief Prosecutor consists of 162 pages with a list of 71 party members he demands they be barred from politics for five years. Those officials include members of the Parliament, members of the Government, mayors of cities and districts, and other important persons. Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdogan, former House Speaker of the Parliament Bulent Arinc and President Abdullah Gul are on top of that list.
All the members of the JDP included in the list are accused of expressing opinions that run counter to the principles of a secular state (laicism). The Deputy Chief Prosecutor found 61 statements of this nature by the Prime Minister, 16 - by the former House Speaker of the Parliament, 10 - by the President, who, interestingly, voiced them being the Foreign Minister. The Deputy Chief Prosecutor even saw a threat to laicism in the term “religious president” used to refer to the head of the nation who performs namaz (Muslim prayer) five times a day and observes religious rites.
In his claim, the Deputy Chief Prosecutor quotes Recep Erdogan. For instance, “Some consider laicism a religion. If laicism is a religion, then one cannot be a Muslim at the same time” (2001), “Imagine hijab is a political symbol. Will you also blame those who wore it as a political symbol? Will you ban symbols and attributes? Where on earth is there this kind of a ban, when we are talking about the human liberties?” (Jan., 2008, Madrid), “If you are saying all this merely to remove religious people from politics, then the nation shall not absolve you” (from his speech on religious extremism), “If I intended to cause tention, I would gather ten times more people [than the opponents] on the streets. For the last five years we did not utter a single sound on the problem of hijab, we were patient” (2008), “We are faithful Muslims. The Koran says that women must cover their heads outdoors. Because of [the problem of] hijabs my daughters could not study in [the institutions of higher education of] Turkey” (2005).
Ferghana.Ru wrote earlier that hijabs were prohibited in the universities of Turkey by the article of law “On the higher education committee.” As a result, thousands of girls were forced to study abroad in countries where the Muslim headscarf is allowed. As to the ones who stayed in Turkey, some entered university campuses in wigs, while others had to take their headscarfs off.
Furthermore, according to the Deputy Chief Prosecutor’s claim, the JDP founders were connected with parties that were closed for the reasons mentioned above. The Deputy Chief Prosecutor also asserts that in case they fail to build a Sariath state, their supporters can declare Jihad (the sacred war).
One of three options
Here, the Constitutional Court has three ways to go – to close the JDP off, to deprive it of the state financial aid or to reject the lawsuit.
The decision to close the party requires the consent of seven out of eleven members of the Constitutional Court. On Mar. 17, copies of the lawsuit were handed out to all of the members, who will examine and determine whether or not it complies with the law. After that, within a month the JDP will have an opportunity to advance and defend their point of view. Their answer will be forwarded on to the High Court of Appeals, which will make up its own mind. And then, in a session of the Constitutional Court, its representative will deliver a report, grounded on all the documents.
On Monday, Mar. 17, the cabinet council of Turkey held a special session, in which they appointed an authorized representative who will address the mass media on the matter of the ruling JDP. Other members of the cabinet are not allowed to speak to any mass media representatives on this matter by no means.
Let’s remind, in terms of closure of political parties, Turkey seems to be a “graveyard”. Thirty parties were disbanded throughout its history. So, it may well be that the burning bulb (symbol of the JDP) goes out soon. Meanwhile, on Jul. 22, 2007 the parliamentary elections resulted in a resounding victory of this party, gaining 47% of national vote and taking 300 out of 550 seats in the Grand Assembly (Parliament of Turkey).
Scandal boosts popularity of the JDP
These charges against the JDP had a broad response worldwide. Commentators express a unanimous opinion that closing political parties is not a democratic act. The most original point of view belongs to the Foreign Minister Affairs of Switzerland, “Deputy Chief Prosecutors around the world act oddly from time to time, but [what happened in Turkey] makes no sense at all. One cannot be barred from holding a public post due to one’s piety only. It contradicts the human rights.” In Turkey, the majority of people reckon that certain individuals, not parties, should be punished. Some think the lawsuit was masterminded by forces outside the country.
In his speech, delivered before the youth wing of the JDP on Mar. 15 in Siirt, Recep Erdogan sharply criticized Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya. He noted that his party came to power gaining 16 million votes and expressed deep indignation, “How can one neglect the will of so many people? Is democracy such a cheap thing?” He also quoted a verse from the Kuran and said, “They have ears, but they do not hear, they have eyes, but they do not see, they have tongues, but they do not tell the truth,” probably meaning the Deputy Chief Prosecutor.
According to the JDP, the charges brought against the party only increase the number of its supporters. Apparently, it is true. So, on Mar. 17, the “Show-TV” private channel conducted an SMS-poll during an evening news bulletin. The question was “Were the parliamentary elections held today, which party would you vote for?” 70% of the audience would go for the ruling JDP, 18% of them would give their votes to the opposition Republican People’s Party, 6% feel drawn to the Nationalist Movement Party, and 4% of the audience would elect the Democratic Party.
Business circles of Turkey oppose closure of parties, too. They are anxious the Deputy Chief Prosecutor’s claim may have a negative effect on the economy. On Mar. 17, the exchange rates of the USD and the Euro rose significantly, and the exchange indexes dropped by 7%. Or rather, all this happened mostly as a result of the worldwide economic downturn.
No matter what the outcome is, it may lead to serious political consequences for Turkey.