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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le parti d’Erdogan sauve sa peau

by Gaël de Santis

Turkey: Erdogan’s Party Saves Its Skin

The Constitutional Court pronounces the AKP, the prime minister’s party, to be "a nest of anti-secularist acitivities". But the party won’t be banned.

Translated Monday 4 August 2008, by Isabelle Métral

“It’s a strange ruling: the child accused of wanting to set the house on fire has been found guilty, but the court is content with merely depriving him of his pocket money,” the editorialist of the Turkish daily Miliyet noted yesterday. If the AKP (party of justice and development), the governing party, has not been banned by the Constitutional Court, it has lost part of its public funding.

The AKP was under the threat of a ban as some supporters of secularism thought the the Islamization of society was on Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Eredogan’s party’s secret agenda.

A serious warning

As Hasim Kilic, the president of the Court, delivered the verdict, he declared the AKP to be “a nest of anti-secularist activists”, a position that was approved by 10 out of the 11 judges of the Constitutional Court. But only 6 (out of the 11) came out in support of a ban; and though that was a majority, it still fell short of the qualified majority of 7 required for that kind of decision. The suppression of part of the party’s funding constitutes “a serious warning”, Haslim Kilic commented. The Court besides rejected a request to have 71 AKP members (the prime minister included) banned from party membership for five years.

“The AKP never was a nest of anti-secularist activities; it will continue to uphold the fundamental values of our Republic,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan retorted, when the court’s verdict was made public. After its victory in the 2002 election, the incumbent party came first again in 2007, which enabled it to impose Abdullah Gül as president of the Republic despite the secularists’ opposition and their huge demonstrations. If the AKP has not questioned the secularist nature of the Turkish Republic, it takes measures that cosset the conservatives. It is now planning to propose a law to legalize the wearing of the hijab in the country’s universities.

The European partners are reassured

The Constitutional Court’s ruling comes as a relief to Turkey’s European partners. Olli Rehn, the commissioner in charge of enlargement, congratulated himself on the outcome and demanded that “Turkey’s regulations as concerns political parties be aligned with European standards." In the European commissioner’s view, banning a political party "can only be justified if a party calls for the use of violence or uses violence as a political means to topple the democratic constitutional order.”

Given the outcome of the proceedings, negotiations in favour of Turkey’s EU membership can now proceed and the French presidency might open three new membership chapters.

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