With the court case against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officially started, Turkey has entered a new period of political uncertainty.
If the AK Party does something, such as introducing constitutional amendments and taking the issue to a referendum, it will be seen as interfering with the judicial process. If it does nothing and respects the process, as some urge it to do, the Constitutional Court is certain to put an end to its political life. What is worse is the possibility of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan being pushed out of the political scene for a number of years. Given the record of the Constitutional Court on party closures, it would be too naïve to think that the judicial process will move with fairness and equity.
In a scenario where the AK Party is closed down, Erdoğan is banned from politics and Parliament is dissolved, Turkey will be heading toward a state of chaos and instability. Turkish democracy has already taken a major hit with the case; the decision will turn it into a bleeding wound. The Turkish people’s belief in the democratic system will be shattered. There will be no way to keep ordinary citizens committed to the principles of law, political representation and transparency.
The Turkish economy will also be affected very negatively. There are signs that foreign investors are acting with extreme caution, which means losing major capital to other markets. Without political stability and a reasonable sense of future, no company will have an appetite for the Turkish market. Things will be even worse for Turkey’s image and effectiveness at the international level. Turkey will certainly lose its strategic depth in its immediate surrounding. Turkey’s role as a balancing power in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine will be lost. The EU vision will be shadowed for a long time and full membership will become a dream that will perhaps never come true.
What Turkey needs now is democratic resolve against a judiciary that interprets laws to protect its own narrow definition of a secularist state. Erdoğan cannot sit back and watch his political career get butchered. Right after March 14, when the court case was opened, Prime Minister Erdoğan said that they’re ready to lose if Turkey is to win. But this is not a win-win or win-lose situation. If the anti-Western, anti-free market, militantly secularist camp wins in Turkey, not only Erdoğan but the whole country will lose.
Some may propose the scenario of the phoenix rising from its ashes. Erdoğan did it before and, some believe, he can do it again. While there is some truth to this, it overlooks a major point: Who will pay the heavy price of political chaos, an economic crisis, social mistrust, a sense of insecurity and hopelessness, a collapse of the democratic system and the loss of international credibility? Erdoğan can rise from his ashes, i.e., let his party get closed down and make a big comeback after a year or so. But this will be too costly both for Turkey and Erdoğan’s political movement.
What should the AK Party do now? It must move with the kind of democratic resolve that shaped the first four years of its rule. The AK Party cannot back off over the democratic reforms for fear of disturbing the establishment. Moving forward is key for maintaining the democratic momentum in Turkey. Continuing the democratic reforms must include the first steps of a judiciary reform, which for years many have called for. The AK Party must revitalize its EU vision and the best way to show this in concrete terms is to launch a new EU Ministry. This will send a powerful message to both the Turkish people and the international community that the AK Party is not going anywhere and that it is the only political movement that can move Turkey forward.
All of this calls for a moment of reflection for the AK Party officials. The long moments of faltering, hesitation and negligence over the political and judicial reforms over the last two years are the chickens coming home to roost for the AK