Turkey’s Secular Fundamentalist Threat

NEW YORK -- The Chief Prosecutor of Turkey’s High Court of Appeals recently recommended to the country’s Constitutional Court that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) be permanently banned. Only last July, the AKP was overwhelmingly re-elected in free and fair elections to lead the government. The Chief Prosecutor also formally recommended that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul, and 69 other leading politicians be banned from politics five years.

Clearly, banning the AKP would trigger a political crisis that would end Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union in the foreseeable future and threaten its recent strong economic growth. So the Chief Prosecutor’s threat should not be taken lightly – all the more so given that the Constitutional Court has banned 18 political parties (including the AKP’s predecessor party) since the current constitution was introduced in 1982. Indeed, the recent call to ban the AKP is directly related to its efforts to change Turkey’s constitution.

The underlying charge in the Chief Prosecutor’s indictment is that the AKP has been eroding secularism. But the origins of the current Constitution, and its definition of secularism, are highly suspect.

Turkey’s existing Constitution was adopted in 1982 as a direct product of the Turkish military coup in 1980. The five senior generals who led the coup appointed, directly or indirectly, all 160 members of the Consultative Assembly that drafted the new constitution, and they retained a veto over the final document. In the national ratification referendum that followed, citizens were allowed to vote against the military-sponsored draft, but not to argue against it publicly.