Wednesday, April 9, 2008

MHP Shows Its Hand—301 At Stake

In an interview with Today's Zaman, MHP Deputy Chairman Mehmet Şandır lays down the ground rules of any compromise the party might make with AKP. The MHP proposal is the product of an intra-party commission it set up alongside the AKP commission comprised to study party closures. It is evident from the interview that MHP is determined to extract significant concessions from AKP in exchange for its cooperation to support constitutional amendments that might save AKP from closure (see April 3 post). These most significant of these has been unveiled by what is more or less a threat: If AKP introduces reform of Article 301 in or outside of the mini-reform package currently being considered, MHP will withdraw its support.

Şandır was adamant to stress that MHP has long supported amending constitutional law regarding party closures and that the move has nothing to do with the AKP closure case. Although MHP did indeed cal for party closure reform when it was part of a larger governing coalition with the Motherland Party (ANATVAN) and the Democratic Left Party (DSP) in 2001, it can hardly be said that MHP's timing to push forward with changing the law has nothing to do with its desire to stop AKP in its tracks when it comes to amending Article 301.

As to closures, should AKP not move forward with Article 301, the party is prepared to amend the party closure articles to require that the Chief Prosecutor seek the approval of the Parliament before moving filing a closure case with the Constitutional Court as the court of first instance. To complement this measure, MHP argues that local courts should act as courts of first instance when it comes to complaints against political parties. Should local courts find a political party to be in violation of the Constitution, the Chief Prosecutor might then proceed to file a case with the Constitutional Court. In this case, consent to do so overrides the consent otherwise required to be attained from Parliament.

The main emphasis of MHP's proposal is to punish individual members of political parties in local courts. To do this, MHP is asking that parliamentary immunity be lifted. As the constitution stands now, immunity is only lifted once a political party has been closed. AKP has expressed a willingness to compromise with MHP and lift parliamentary immunity especially if such immunity is also lifted in regard to members of the judiciary and bureacracy.

The MHP proposal also contends that the Chief Prosecutor's powers to file sans the consent of Parliament should be preserved if the party is accused of participating in terrorist activities. It also declares that it will not accept any move by AKP to cancel closure cases currently pending before the Constitutional Court (these include case against AKP and the Kurdish DTP).

AKP had announced that it was will include the MHP demand for the lifting of parliamentary immunity in its mini-reform package. In exchange, AKP is expecting MHP to work with it to amend the party closure law so as to require parties to first be tried in local courts and so as to eliminate the Constitutional Court's power to ban politicians from politics. Instead, the Court might prevent politicians from running in the next election term. The party announced that it would not seek an amendment that would adjust the number of judges required to be in accord for party closure and that it will not seek any change in the law to cancel closure cases previously pending before the Court.

So far, AKP has not shown any signs of shelving Article 301. Indeed, today's papers are full of accusations that AKP is moving forward with Article 301 at the behest of the European Union. These allegations hint that the very scheduling of 301 reform ahead of a visit by EU Commissioner José Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commisioner Olli Rehn reveals that it is merely a ploy aimed to please Western critics. The tone of the allegations suggest that 301 reform is a result of forces outside the country (which to some degree is the truth) and that it screams of European meddling in the Turkish system.

Below is MHP's proposal in brief and as summarized by Today's Zaman:
1. Tighter criteria should be introduced for the closure of political parties that are sine qua non elements of democracies. To this end, Articles 68 and 69 of the Constitution should be amended.

2. Local courts should first decide whether a political party is really the focal point of banned activities, and the parties that are found guilty should be tried at the Constitutional Court. Instead of closing down a political party completely, the actions cited as justification for the closure should be penalized instead, and to do this, the party members who are held liable for the closure of the party should be punished. Punishments should be individualized. Therefore, the immunities of ministers and deputies, set forth in Article 83 of the Constitution, should be lifted.

3. The political parties that are involved in terrorism should be kept out of the scope of the constitutional amendments. The practice of shutting down the political parties that have close ties with terrorist organization or which are involved in violent or terrorist acts should be maintained.

4. Provisional articles should not be passed in order to make the closure cases currently heard by the Constitutional Court null and void. No change should be made to the composition and operation of the Constitutional Court.

5. The power and authorities of the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals should not be curtailed, but a consent system should be put in place for launching party closure cases. The prosecutor should obtain the consent of Parliament before launching such a case. If local courts are authorized to hear the closure cases in the first instance, this should be considered as a consent system.

6. In order to secure the backing of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the constitutional amendments, the AK Party should submit its proposal to the CHP in a clear manner.

7. Any changes or revisions to Article 301 of the TCK are strictly forbidden from inclusion in the package of constitutional amendments. If the article is brought to Parliament separately, the relations with the AK Party will be immediately severed.

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