Suspicions rise over military s role in AK Party closure case

The release of a warning memorandum written by Turkish generals against the ruling party on the Web site of the Turkish General Staff on April 27, 2007 and the controversial 367 quorum ruling of the Constitutional Court that halted last year s parliamentary vote for presidential elections are among the recent examples of Turkey s staunchly secular military s intervention in the country s political process.

Contrary to claims made by the main opposition Republican People s Party (CHP), there have been significant legal doubts that a quorum of 367 deputies was necessary to go ahead with presidential voting. But the high court voted in favor of the CHP s argument.

The memo and the court decision forced an early election on July 22 last year that brought the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) back to power for the second time with an overwhelming 47 percent of the popular vote.

This signaled a defeat for the military, as well as for the CHP, which had brought the quorum before the court. Then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül was elected as president by the new parliament despite the e-memo and the court ruling.

At the center of the dispute is the decades-long fight between the secular elite and the conservatives who believed in the softening of the country s stringent conception of secularism. The secularists feared that the AK Party would use its control of both Parliament and the presidency to overcome opposition against moving Turkey toward Islamic rule.

This has been despite the fact that the ruling AK Party has been extremely successful in furthering Turkey s accession talks with the EU. But we should also note that the AK Party stalled with these its democratic reforms following its second election.

The e-memo and the court ruling came in the midst of a rallies all over the country organized by military-supported nongovernmental organizations.

Also in recent history, it was the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) that initiated meetings at the military headquarters in Ankara with the media members, academics and members of the judiciary in 1996, launching an open propaganda campaign against the coalition government at the time, which had Islamic roots. The TSK-led propaganda campaign resulted in the resignation of the government, which came to be known as the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup.

Prior to these events, the TSK had staged three other interventions into the political system to put an end to political turmoil due to worsening economic conditions, halt ideological clashes between leftist and rightist students or stem what they perceived as the rise of political Islam.

Paradoxically, these military interventions have given rise to more conservatism while further paralyzing the economic situation and leaving more room for corruption. It was after the postmodern coup, for example, that the Turkish banking system collapsed due to corruption that involved certain retired generals.

When the military s past actions are taken into account, questions are raised, not just in Turkey but also throughout the Western world, over whether the TSK is behind the recent court Constitutional Court decision that annulled constitutional amendments allowing women to wear the headscarf on university campuses.

There have also been suspicions that the TSK may be behind a public prosecutor s decision to file a case for the closure of the AK Party with the Constitutional Court and to seek political bans on 70 AK Party members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as President Gül. The court has not yet made any ruling this case.

A recent event has strengthened such suspicions. According to press reports confirmed by the parties involved, Constitutional Court Deputy President Osman Paksüt and Land Forces Commander Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is expected to be appointed as the chief of general staff during the August meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ), have had three separate meetings at the Turkish General Staff (TGS) headquarters since March this year.

Paksüt and Başbuğ confirmed that they had met, but criticized some media organizations for casting suspicion about the meetings.

Interestingly, Paksüt s first meeting with Gen. Başbuğ took place just before the release of the chief prosecutor s indictment against the AK Party.

Some may think that there was nothing wrong with Paksüt meeting with Gen. Başbuğ.

But if the military s traditional intervention in the country s political life is taken into consideration, such meetings between a member of the Constitutional Court, which will decide over the fate of the political process in this country, and a senior general slotted to become the next chief of general staff will be perceived as suspicious, throwing further shadows on the top court s rulings.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | 14:05 WIB 228