31 July 2008
Fadi Hakura

Fadi Hakura

Associate Fellow, Europe Programme


On 30 July, the Constitutional Court allowed the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) to escape a ban by a whisker.

Under the Turkish constitution, the Constitutional Court has the power either to ban a political party and its party officials or alternatively apply financial sanctions for anti-secular activities. A minimum of seven of the Court's eleven judges must vote to shut down a political party.

By a 6-5 margin, the Court fell just short of the threshold necessary for an outright ban; instead 10 out of the 11 judges determined that the AKP was a focal point for anti-secular activities and imposed a £10 million monetary fine.

Hasim Kilic, the President of the Court, declared that the ruling was a stern warning to the AKP and advised the party to internalise the appropriate lessons from the case.

Aftermath of Court Ruling

Turkey has avoided immediate uncertainty by the avoidance of a closure of a party which won 47 percent of the vote in the July 2007 general elections. International factors - particularly the intervention of the European Union (EU), the United States and foreign investors - combined with a divided public opinion seem to have played a crucial role in the Court's calculations.

The AKP now has a golden opportunity to introduce an ambitious package of economic, political and social reforms to push the country along the path of EU accession and economic prosperity. Essentially, the party has the option either to embark on a reform programme - a dominant feature of its first term in office - or continue what many perceived as the confrontational politics and the religious agenda of its second term in office.

It is still unclear as to what the policy direction the AKP will take. Nevertheless, some key indicators to watch may include whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffles the cabinet, opens an inclusive and consensual debate on a new liberal civilian constitution and concludes a market-friendly agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

On a broader level, two important long-term trends may influence the future course of Turkey.

Firstly, recent polls indicate that Turks blamed both the AKP and the secularists for the political crisis. The percentage of 'undecided' voters grew fast at the expense of the AKP and the opposition parties, and 45 percent of Turks desired new political parties concentrating on bread-and-butter issues. This suggests that a growing space for centrist politicians may have been emerging.

Secondly, Turkey is undergoing extensive changes. Surveys demonstrate that Islamic and secular values are converging among an increasingly pluralistic and diverse Turkish public. A secularising Islam appears to be in the making sustained by the forces of globalisation, EU accession and socio-economic modernisation.

The interplay of these dual trends depends on the policy choices of the AKP. Re-occupying the centre ground of Turkish politics could allow the AKP to consolidate its winning coalition of liberal secularists, aspiring middle classes, underprivileged Turks, Anatolian businesspeople, urban poor and Kurds. Further tilts to the right, on the other hand, could potentially benefit credible liberal-minded, secular-leaning political personalities who wish to build coalitions of right and left, and are comfortable with individual choice about headscarves and alcohol.