Turkey\'s Top Court Modifies Law on Banning Political Parties
Turkey's top court modified a law on outlawing political parties on Tuesday, strengthening its hand in the case calling for the ban of the pro-Islamic Virtue Party for anti-secular activities.
Deputy constitutional court chairman Hasim Kilic said the court scrapped an article in the political parties law which outlined strict conditions under which parties could be banned, declaring it unconstitutional.
The move means that the court, the only authority allowed to ban parties under the constitution, will now consider only general constitutional provisions on the issue.
Judges began debating Tuesday whether to ban the Virtue Party.
Kilic said the judges would reconvene Wednesday to decide whether to publish in the official gazette the reasoning behind their abolition of the provision -- a move that will lead to a short break in the case against Virtue.
The final verdict is crucial for the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit because banning Virtue and removing all of its 103 MPs from office -- as the prosecution demands -- would drag the country into a broad by-election or even general polls.
Elections would mean further trouble for the government at a time when it is battling a severe financial crisis and is striving to introduce drastic reforms for European Union membership.
Virtue could evade the ban thanks to a package of constitutional amendments submitted to parliament on Monday by the ruling parties.
The proposals envisage tougher conditions for banning political parties and stipulate that the constitutional court should only take up ban cases after a decision in Turkey's lower courts.
Virtue deputy chairman Lutfi Esengun told AFP they did not expect the court to announce its final verdict until January, leaving enough time for parliament to pass the changes. There is no deadline for the verdict.
"The only outcome we expect is the rejection of the case. Anything else will be a surprise," Esengun said, stressing that the evidence in the case was already insufficient to outlaw the party.
The government's drive for amendments was a bid to avert Virtue's closure, and therefore the prospect of elections, Esengun said.
European observers stress that banning Virtue would also anger the EU as a blemish on Turkey's pledges to improve human rights, particularly freedom of expression, on its road to EU membership.
Virtue's hopes had already been boosted by a preliminary evaluation of the case by a constitutional court rapporteur, who reportedly expressed an opinion against outlawing the party.
Virtue stands accused of anti-secular activities, namely exploiting religious beliefs, inciting protests against a ban on head scarves in universities, and orchestrating a failed bid by one of its MPs last year to take an oath in parliament wearing a head scarf.
The case was launched in May 1999 by chief prosecutor Vural Savas, who pushed successfully for a ban on its predecessor, the Welfare Party, in January 1998.
Savas also claims that Virtue is an illegal party, as all its members were former Welfare MPs and it is being run behind the scenes by banned Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan. Turkish law forbids the revival of banned parties under a different name.
Besides outlawing Virtue, Savas is seeking to bar its leadership from politics for five years and remove all of its deputies from office.
If the court bans Virtue and removes some 20 MPs, by-elections would have to be held for the vacant seats in the 550-member parliament.
If all 103 MPs are stripped of their seats, a broad by-election will be held, and the government could even resort to holding a general election.
Outlawing Welfare in 1998, the constitutional court also slapped a five-year political ban on Erbakan and his close aides.
The ban followed Erbakan's resignation in June 1997 as a result of a harsh anti-Islamist campaign led by the military, a staunch defender of secularism in predominantly Muslim Turkey -- ANKARA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)