American Hellenic Institute

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Turkey: Not A Normal Democracy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: JONATHAN CLARKE

January 23, 1998 No. 04/98

TURKEY: NOT A NORMAL DEMOCRACY

On January 16, 1998 the Turkish Constitutional Court handed down its decision to ban the Refah (Welfare) party. The decision also banned seven Refah leaders, including former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, from political activities for five years and confiscated the party's property.

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) regrets this action. AHI was a stern critic of the Erbakan government, citing its openings to Iran, Libya, and Cuba. Nonetheless, AHI deplored the undemocratic manner in which the Refah government was removed from office in June 1997. Zeynep Atikkan, a columnist for the Hurriyet, correctly commented at the time that this amounted to a "a kind of post-modern coup."

The banning of the Refah party provides further evidence that Turkey is not a normal democracy. The Turkish constitution allots a role to the military (Article 118) and provides political powers to the executive (Article 69) that would find no place in the constitution of the United States or other Western democracies. The fact that the Constitutional Court's decision was consistent with its legal authority is symptomatic of the deep-seated cancer at the heart of the Turkish body politic.

The Turkish action has been widely condemned in the international community, including by the European Union. The EU statement emphasized that the fact that the Constitutional Court argued that it acted in accordance with the Turkish Constitution raised concerns for "the implications for democratic pluralism and freedom of expression." In Washington, the State Department stated that "the closure of Refah or other legitimate parties damages confidence in Turkey's democratic, multiparty system." Press comment has also been negative. On January 21, the Washington Post condemned the action as "strong-arming" and described Turkey's NATO membership as an "embarrassing anomaly."

AHI General Counsel Eugene T. Rossides stated: "AHI believes that America's allies should be held to the same standards of democracy as those enshrined in our own constitution. This action by the Constitutional Court confirms the undemocratic nature of the Turkish constitution and state. The primary issue in Turkey is between military versus civilian control of the government not between secular versus religious control. If Turkey hopes to become a democratic nation and qualify for membership of the European Union, it will have to give serious thought to amending its constitution and placing the military under civilian control, as in other democracies."