|Turkish top court decided on Monday to accept the lawsuit against the ruling AKP demanding its closure. The lawsuit, which could last up to a year, raised concerns over a prolonged political uncertainity. (UPDATED)
The 11 judges of the Constitutional Court agreed unanimously to accept the indictment against AKP filed by the country's top prosecutor on March 14, the court's deputy chairman Osman Paksut told reporters. The EU said the case showed a "systemic error" in Turkey's constitutional framework.
Paksut said the judges ruled by a majority vote that President Abdullah Gul, who was a prominent member of the AKP until he was elected head of state in August, should be included in the trial. Four judges, including the Chairman Hasim Kilic, objected that Gul should be included.
Turkish stocks and lira currency hit the lowest levels of the day on Monday after the Constitutional Court decided to take on the case against AKP, demanding its closure. Both lira and stocks recovered following the initial reaction. (For the market report)
European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn voiced renewed concern on Monday after court's decision. Rehn said he would report to the European Commission on the case on Wednesday, saying it showed a "systemic error" in the Turkey's constitutional framework.
"The prohibition or dissolution of political parties is a far-reaching measure which should be used with the utmost restraint," Rehn said in a statement, adding: "I do not see any such justification for this case."
THE LEGAL PROCEDURE
According to the legal procedure now AKP will make a preliminary defence, and this will be sent to the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor's Office.
After the Chief Prosecutor states his views on the merits of the case, AKP will make a verbal defense in a month's time. This will be followed by verbal statements of the Chief Prosecutor.
Later the rapporteur assigned by the Constitutional Court will prepare his/her report on the merits of the case. In this phase, the Chief Prosecutor can submit further evidence and AKP can submit additional defence material to the rapporteur.
Then rapporteur's report will be distributed to court members. Later Constitutional Court Chief Judge Hasim Kilic will set a date and the court will start seeing the case on its merits.
If AKP demands extra time for its defence, the court will also assess these demands. According to the Constitution, at least 7 of the 11 members of the court have to vote for closure in order for the court to shut down a political party.
Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya filed a lawsuit against AKP on March 14 and demanded its closure claiming the party became the "focal point of anti-secular activities." He also asked the Court to ban 71 officials of AKP, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Gul, from politics.
WHAT AKP WOULD DO
Hurriyet columnist Oktay Eksi said he wasn't surprised with the decision. "But I wasn't expecting an unanimous decision. I both welcome and respect the news," he added.
The Constitutional Court had previously ruled the closure of Islamic parties such as Welfare Party, which AKP has its political roots. Welfare Party's closure ruling was later taken to the European Court of Human Rights, who decided that the ruling didn't violate human rights.
The AKP announced last week that it is working on a constitutional amendment making it more difficult to ban political parties, drawing criticism that it is seeking to circumvent the systems safety mechanisms.
Legal experts are divided on whether such an amendment would help the AKP fight an eventual ban, some saying the constitution forbids parliament from debating or ruling on issues under judicial process.
Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said the court could rule either to shut the party down or to cut the official aids it receives. "The (closing) decision wouldn't be a legal obstacle for Gul to maintain his duty. But he should give up his duty. Otherwise his position will be weakened ethically. On the other hand, a constitutional amendment would be considered as pardon for AKP itself," he added.