- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The people’s faith in the rule of law has been jeopardized. Two recent developments have been dangerously tied.

On one side, Turkey’s chief prosecutor has filed a case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Constitutional Court, alleging that it is fomenting anti-secular activities and asserting that it should be banned from politics. On the other side, a large-scale police investigation has been going on for nearly 10 months in an attempt to expose Ergenekon, an ultra-nationalist gang accused of inciting anti-democratic activities and seeking to engineer a coup against the country’s Islamist-rooted government.

The AKP lambastes the case against it and accuses the chief prosecutor of bringing politics into legal affairs — and at the same time, demands that people “respect the process” on the Ergenekon case. But protesters took to the streets after police raided the home of 83-year-old Ilhan Selcuk, the editor-in-chief of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper last Friday at 4:30 a.m., saying that arresting an old man at such a time had nothing to do with justice but everything to do with trying to keep people afraid. World Press Council Unity Chairman Oktay Eksi expressed deep concern that the AKP-led government is trying to silence secularist voices and take over the country. Deniz Baykal, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the leading opposition party, claims that AKP is creating its own deep state. Given this state of disarray, people can only lose trust in the rule of law.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is playing the victim in the Constitutional Court case. But he’s no victim. He’s the prime minister — and the AKP should have responded to the case with calm. A confident government should have no problem facing and defeating charges against it if the rule of law is strong and capable. Mr. Erdogan storms from one speech to another, accusing those who disagree with him of being dark forces opposed to democracy in Turkey. But not all democracies are the same and the AKP is behaving as though winning 47 percent of the nation’s votes gives it the right to do whatever it wants.

The AKP is not the only party at risk of being banned. The Democratic Society Party (DTP), a Kurdish party that received 7 percent of the vote in the last election, faces its own closure case before the Constitution Court. The prosecutor has brought these cases based on the law, which he is obligated to follow. But that doesn’t mean the Constitutional Court’s decision is a fait accompli. The Rights and Freedoms Party (Hak Par), which calls for Turkey to become a federation with part of its land designated to be Kurdistan, faced its own Constitutional Court case recently — and the court ruled in its favor. It was a historic decision — to say the least. The level of a party’s support and what it stands for should be irrelevant if the AKP truly believes what it says — that shutting down political parties in a democracy is wrong. So why is Mr. Erdogan behaving as though he’s being beset by enemies?

The prime minister made a powerful statement by supporting Abdullah Gul to be president, and by choosing men whose wives wear headscarves as his prominent cabinet members. He also chose to begin his second term by amending the constitution to lift the ban on headscarves at public universities. This is a sensitive issue in Turkish society — but this came as a surprise, and the argument was over changing the whole constitution. The AKP asked a group of law professors to prepare a proposal and they did. Yet AKP has not presented its own draft to the parliament yet. In the face of the recent closure case, however, AKP suggested to introduce new selective amendments — demanding to re-write two articles in the constitution, making it impossible for prosecutors to file challenges to parties at the Constitutional Court — and they drop the case against the AKP. If they introduce this amendment to the parliament, their parliamentary seats will easily secure enough votes to bring about this change, as well. In other words, if the laws do not please the AKP, it changes them. That ability alone is a threat to the rule of law.

When the people of Turkey elected Mr. Erdogan for a second term, they certainly didn’t do it to make the headscarf issue the government’s leading concern. They need more urgent economic matters to be addressed. It would help if Mr. Erdogan used the AKP’s popularity for something positive — to reach across the aisle to discuss the constitutional amendment with the CHP. The country certainly needs a new one. But the way Mr. Erdogan does business does not unite the country. His house is exceptionally divided, polarized — and he should take responsibility for it.

Turks, regardless of which side they’re on, feel frightened and pessimistic rather than hopeful about their country’s future. Once proud of their long history and knowledge of government, they are confused and disillusioned by the way the AKP is handling state institutions.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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