AKP can now go forward

ISTANBUL – A period of political uncertainty has come to an end in Turkey: governing party AKP will not be closed down, the Constitutional Court decided today. Various reforms and negotiations initiated by the AKP but stalled during the court case, can now be taken further. For example the accession talks with the EU and a proposed presidential visit to neighbouring Armenia in September.

The possible closure of the AKP had a tight hold on politics over the last few months and delayed decisions on important issues. A new constitution is one of the most important examples: the AKP has been busy for months planning the modernization of the old constitution drafted by a military government in the early eighties. The process was slowed down because changing the constitution could have been seen as an effort to prevent the closure of the AKP, which would probably not have helped their case. Changing the constitution might give some hope for solving the Kurdish question: in the draft constitution presented at the end of last year, the Kurdish minority was given more rights. That might bring a peaceful turn to the violent fight with the Kurdish separatist movement PKK which,  many say, was also behind the bombings in Istanbul last Sunday.
The commander of the Turkish land forces, Ilker Basbug, will also be relieved: next week he will most likely be appointed as successor to the supreme commander of the armed forces, Büyükanit. Had the AKP been closed down, there would have been procedural problems with his official appointment, which has to be made by the government. They can now fulfil that task.
President Gül can accept an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Sarkissian to come to Armenia and watch a football match between Armenia and Turkey in September. So far Gül has neither accepted nor rejected the diplomatically important invitation . Not affiliated with any party as president but originally from the AKP, there was a possibility that he would no longer even be president in September, but now that danger has passed.

Negotiations with the EU will also be pushed forward after this decision by the Court. The negotiations were never halted, but now that a party closure is off the table, democratic reforms complying with EU standards can be enlarged, mainly on the issues of human rights and minorities. Also the Cyprus question is important to Turkey’s EU accession. There are great expectations about negotiations between Turkish Cypriots and the Cyprus Republic (which occupies just half of the island) due to begin on 3 September. Had the AKP been closed, the Turkish Cypriot negotiators would have lacked back up from Ankara, which would immediately have given the negotiations less chance of succceeding.

Reforms benefiting the Islamic and mostly conservative AKP voters will most likely not be on the agenda for the time being. The ban on wearing headscarfs at universities, which the AKP lifted earlier this year, was overruled by the Constitutional Court. The AKP was not closed down, but will need to slow down on reforms that could be seen as ‘striking at the roots of the secular state’.

(written for news agency ANP on July 30, 2008)

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