Friday, March 21, 2008

Commissions Created to Examine Party Closures

From this morning's Today's Zaman:

AK Party ponders EU criteria for party closures

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan asked AK Party officials to explore possibilities that will make party closures more difficult. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have set up commissions to explore the possibility of drafting constitutional amendments that will make it more difficult to close political parties.

Both parties are working on own their specific solutions to the issue. A generally accepted approach in both commissions is to use the party closure policies of EU member countries in modeling changes to the Constitution and the Political Parties Law. EU countries that have legislation for closing political parties generally restrict closures to extreme cases of parties that advocate fascism or violence. The amendments under consideration would likely also include the advocating of Islamic rule as a legitimate reason for closing a party.

The AK Party's legal experts, including Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, parliamentary group deputy chairmen Bekir Bozdağ, Sadullah Ergin, and Nihat Ergün, Parliamentary Constitutional Commission Chairman Burhan Kuzu, Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat and former Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç, have outlined possible amendments to the Constitution and the Political Parties Law.

Having discovered that many EU member countries do not have legislation concerning party closures, they have decided to design a system that will incorporate elements from the practices of Spain, Portugal and Italy, which have party closure provisions in their constitutions and laws. In these countries, only those parties who openly support terrorism can be shut down. These countries also require the consent of the government or the parliament for launching a closure case.

The AK Party’s legal experts have made five suggestions for changes to party closure procedure. The first is that the Constitutional Court should only hear closure cases for parties that support terrorism. The AK Party is planning to amend the constitutional article that regulates party closures in a way that will comply with the criteria set forth in the Venice commission, which are currently implemented in Spain, Portugal and Italy. According to the principles of the Venice commission, only those political parties that engage in violent activities for political purposes can be closed down. Parties that are involved in terrorism and racism (fascist, national socialist) will be open to closure as well.

According to the AK Party’s second suggestion, the Supreme Court of Appeals’ chief prosecutor’s powers related to party closures will remain unchanged, but the prosecutor must obtain consent before proceeding with a closure case. It has not yet been decided whether the authority of this consent should be assigned to Parliament
or to the criminal board of the Supreme Court of Appeals. In Japan, parliamentary consent is sought for such cases. Given the possible reactions that may emerge from other parties, the AK Party is more likely to give this authority to the criminal board of the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The AK Party’s third suggestion is that the practice of banning individuals from politics should be eliminated. The AK Party argues that instead of closing down a party, individual members of that party should be penalized. However, they suggest making an exception to this rule for political parties that support terrorism. Thus, political party members who are held liable for the closure of their party can be banned from entering the next elections, instead of being banned from politics outright, they say. The AK Party is also planning to abolish the constitutional provision that says that these people cannot be founders, members, executives or auditors of another political party.

The AK Party’s legal experts have also suggested that a unanimous vote of the Constitutional Court should be required to shut down a party. Currently, the Constitutional Court may decide to shut down a political party with a two-thirds majority.

While some deputies argue that a provisional article should be added to the Constitution that would ensure the cancellation of closure cases currently pending with the Constitutional Court, the AK Party will most likely refrain from doing this, as this may spark criticism toward the party. The closure cases currently being heard by the court include those against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) and the AK Party.

As the final criterion, these constitutional amends may be taken to referendum. Pointing out that a referendum process may take a long time, some AK Party deputies maintain that it would be better to consult other political parties about the amendments and try to ensure their cooperation.

What does the MHP want?

The MHP is warm to the idea of amending the Constitution and the Political Parties Law in a way that will bring tighter regulations to party closures. It, too, has established a commission -- chaired by MHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Bal -- to work on the subject. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, at a meeting of his party’s parliamentary group last Tuesday, said that political parties should only be closed down by the Turkish nation. He said he has instructed party officials to work on amendments to article 68 and 69 of the Constitution.

Bahçeli suggested that party members who can be held liable for activities that would previously have led to the closure of a party should be penalized, instead of shutting down the entire party. He also suggested that parliamentary immunities may be regulated accordingly and that exceptions can be made concerning political parties that support terrorism or nurture separatist ideologies.

The MHP also does not want the chief prosecutor’s powers to be curtailed or the Constitutional Court’s composition to be changed. The MHP’s legal experts are against any provisional article that would lead to the cancellation of pending cases. Work should instead concentrate on establishing legal norms, they say. The MHP has also wants the involvement of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the amendment process.

The legal experts from the AK Party and the MHP will meet today to exchange and discuss their proposals. They are expected to meet once again over the weekend. If the AK Party and the MHP fail to reach agreement, Turkey may have to hold another referendum concerning the amendments. In this case, to speed up the referendum process, the AK Party will reintroduce a previous constitutional amendment designed to decrease the referendum standby period from 120 days to 45 days. The amendment had previously been vetoed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

DTP hopes to benefit from amendments

While the DTP has said it will lend its unconditional support to the constitutional amendments, the AK Party will not officially request its support. However, the amendments prepared either by the AK Party or the MHP will probably not come to the rescue of the DTP, which is currently being tried on charges of being the focal point of separatist activities.

CHP and DSP to go to Constitutional Court

The CHP does not approve of the amendments suggested by the AK Party and the MHP. The Democratic Left Party (DSP), which generally follows a political line close to that of the CHP, has also been cool to the proposals. The CHP and the DSP are planning to apply to the Constitutional Court for the cancellation of the amendments if they are passed. CHP leader Baykal has openly stated that they disapprove of any change in the Constitution or the Political Parties Law.

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