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With reference to the pending closure lawsuit against the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), Haluk Ŝahin argues in his column in the Radikal newspaper on 20 June 2008 that, even for the AKP’s opponents, this party’s closure would be a grave political error. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Why the AKP should not be closed

Haluk Ŝahin

It is said that the closure lawsuit filed against the AKP is a political and not a legal suit. This has not prevented a variety of legal defence strategies from being touted. I shall not do the same in this article. Based on the premise that this is a purely political suit, I will propose counter arguments on this plane. In other words, I shall attempt to explain why the closure of the AKP by court order is wrong, even from the point of view of the AKP’s opponents.

1) A closure order as a result of this lawsuit will add grist to the mill of the political Islamic movement in this country in its discourse of oppression, which it sees fit to preserve as an ever-festering sore. This mythology, which to a large extent consists of misconceptions and exaggerated narrative, will blossom and enrich its repertoire as it acquires new victims and heroes. What needs to be done, rather than giving succour to this militant ideology which strives to place this country within the “Darulharb” [territory under non-Muslim control], is to demolish the mythological misconceptions with historians’ objective facts. Moreover, the final aim of political movements which draw their strength from victimisation myths is to wreak revenge on the “oppressor”, which is hardly instrumental towards achieving a healthy democratic order.

2) If the AKP is not closed, this will demonstrate the strength, and not the weakness, of Turkish democracy. Party closures have been a frequent feature of our multiparty system in the past and serve to identify the weaknesses of this system. It may well also be argued that the ability to file suit against a ruling party elected with 47% of the national vote points to the existence of effective checks and balances within that system: It means that Turkey is a strong democracy because the road to majority despotism is closed.

3) The AKP, having escaped closure, will most probably draw the necessary conclusions and will understand that Turkish society is not a particularly suitable venue for its “hidden agenda”, if it has one. AKP ideologues base the creeping Islamisation of society on hypotheses of the kind that our population is 99% Muslim, popular culture in Anatolia is Islamic culture and given half a chance Islam will come out into the open; this is why they appear to have so comfortably embraced the discourse of liberty. Now, if nothing else, they know that secularism has taken root, at least among townspeople, and that in particular there are serious resistance points when it comes to women. It is extremely difficult to take back from the people that which they have become accustomed to. These phenomena may force them to do a rethink with reference to the great opportunity that they have missed: To become a non-proselytising centrist party!

4) The AKP has entered a phase of retreat on women’s issues, which it exploited to such great effect with the headscarf question. The discourse of liberty which I mentioned a little earlier brings with it a danger: People may begin to believe your promises, or even more crucially demand them. I see that a number of “pious” women who are actively involved in the Islamic movement have taken promises of sexual equality and freedom seriously. Those whose misconceived minds wish to enchain them and assign them second class status face an uphill struggle. As does the AKP leadership. Leave them to face this dispute.

5) The AKP as an economic and social development project is losing its sparkle. As I have shown in detail in the book The Others, the AKP was a very lucky party. In its first four years, it successfully managed Kemal Derviŝ’s economic and the EU’s political programmes. And then? It is clear for all to see. The nation is wobbling, squandering time and energy.

Closing the party will negate the process of attrition that is underway. Let the forces of attrition do their work. In the light of these arguments, we can say that under such circumstances the closure of the AKP would be a grave political error.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton