ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s top court will hold its first hearings in early July in a case aimed at outlawing the ruling AK Party for Islamist activities, a court source said on Tuesday.
A state prosecutor will give evidence to support his bid to close the governing party on July 1, the court source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The AK Party will respond with an oral defense on July 3.
The closure case has plunged European Union-applicant Turkey into crisis and threatens months of instability. The case has helped knock almost a third off the value of Turkish stocks and weakened the lira currency.
“This is an unprecedented political crisis and what will happen next is highly uncertain,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
The AK Party, a pro-business group with roots in political Islam, handed in its written defense to the court on Monday.
The party said the charges lacked legal basis and were politically motivated. It accused the chief prosecutor of using the Google search engine to build his evidence.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan says he wants the case wrapped up as soon as possible to minimize instability and damage to the economy, which has slowed after years of strong growth.
Erdogan has scrapped a summer recess for parliament in case the country’s top judicial body soon rules on the closure case, a move analysts said may suggest the government was readying for possible early elections.
ODDS AGAINST PARTY
Turkish courts have banned more than 20 political parties for alleged Islamist or Kurdish separatist activities and a predecessor to the AK Party was banned in 2001.
Analysts say the likelihood of the AK Party being closed down has increased since the Constitutional Court earlier this month overturned a government-led move to allow students to wear the Muslim headscarf at university.
The headscarf reform was seen as the catalyst for the closure case, and the AK Party’s attitude towards the garment is a pillar of the indictment.
The prosecutor also wants to ban 71 political figures, including Erdogan, from party politics for five years for seeking to turn officially secular, but predominantly Muslim, Turkey into an Islamic state.
It is the last stage in a long battle with a secularist establishment of judges, generals and professors, who see themselves as the guardians of secularism and the AK Party as a threat to it. The party denies having a hidden Islamist agenda.
The court case also reflects a power struggle between two competing groups as much as decades-old differences in opinion over whether restrictions on practicing Islam should be eased.
Loopholes in election laws mean if the AK Party is shut, followers not banned from politics will be able to form a new movement. Critics also say Erdogan may even return to power as an independent MP and again take up the prime minister’s post.
Turkish intellectuals agree judicial intervention in politics undermines Turkey’s fragile democracy.
“Sooner or later the whole system will crumble because it does not meet the demands of a liberalizing society and world which Turkey wants to be a part of. They (secularist elite) are shooting their last bullets, but they still have lots of bullets left,” said Dogu Ergil, an expert on Turkish politics.