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June 19, 2008, Thursday

Talk of the town

After spending almost a quarter of a century observing politics in Ankara, the city has had an indelible influence on me. Whenever I go back to recharge my political batteries, our capital city fills me with new insights and understandings.I love İstanbul as a joyful city, and every corner of it gives me great pleasure, but I respect Ankara for its eagerness to nourish a suspecting soul.

It is time for commencements in Turkey. My youngest son’s graduation from high school and the ceremony the school held was the most opportune reason for me to go to Ankara to clear my mind.

 Do the priorities of a country differ from one city to another? Yes, especially if the cities in question are İstanbul and Ankara. When in İstanbul you care very little for the calendar of the Constitutional Court or who is going to replace whom in the high echelons of the military in the next Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting, but in Ankara everybody seems to go over every minute detail of these issues.

A veteran journalist friend of mine claims that almost all new and mostly negative developments in politics, from the party closure case to economic turmoil, stem from uncertainties surrounding the military appointments. There are those who feel that the government would like to use its weight in YAŞ to ensure that the successor to Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt as chief of general staff will not be Gen. İlker Başbuğ, the chief of the Land Forces, as expected.

In theory this is possible. The chairman of YAŞ is the prime minister, and the decisions are put into practice after approval by the president. When the prime minister and president come into agreement, they can easily choose somebody else for Gen. Büyükanıt’s position.

This has happened twice in our recent history. In 1977 Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel, in collusion with President Fahri Korutürk, sacked Gen. Namık Kemal Ersun. In 1987, taking the approval of President Kenan Evren, Prime Minister Turgut Özal sent Gen. Necdet Öztorun into early retirement. They both expected to become chief of general staff. 

There is no doubt in my mind if and when the two -- President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan -- decide on an issue they would do it without spending too much time focused on their decision’s repercussions. They would opt for somebody else without thinking twice if they felt it necessary.

This is in theory. In reality, I would never hesitate to bet on just the opposite. The YAŞ meeting, which will be convened in the first week of August, will go smoothly and end without any surprising result.

Even a long sojourn in Ankara hasn’t given me the same authoritative idea about the calendar and outcome of the party closure case. Since I am not as sure as my veteran journalist friend who claims every single political problem is related to uncertainties surrounding the YAŞ meeting, I cannot say with confidence anything about the case other than the obvious: The justices are as divided as ever, and they would like to see this case come to an end as soon as possible.

The case for Democratic Society Party (DTP) will come to the court’s agenda in the second half of July, and the case for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will be handled by the court right after it and most likely be decided in early August. The only factor that would change this calendar is the chief prosecutor’s possible demand for additional time for preparation, and very few in Ankara expect this to happen.

When the president of the Constitutional Court, Haşim Kılıç, on behalf of all the members of the court, made an announcement to criticize the press for its lack of regard over the privacy and integrity of the members of the court, he also attempted to clarify a very important point. In the communiqué of the Constitutional Court the justices showed a disinclination to take over cases with political cloud and asked that politicians solve those kinds of problems between themselves as is the case in democratic countries.

That sentence shines out of a long text as evidence of the unhappiness of the court to tackle the party closure cases.

Unpleasant it may be, yet the court will take up the party closure issue nevertheless and do so as soon as possible. We may have the decision by early August.

What will the decision be? Will the court decide to close the party and ban some leaders from politics, or would it issue a softer verdict, depriving the AK Party of state funds, or issue a warning to ask that it remain within the boundaries of the secular setup?

The most likely scenario is still the one that envisions the end of the AK Party. There are those who claim that the re-establishment of the AK Party under a different name would be very difficult under the present circumstances. Deniz Baykal, leader of Republican People’s Party (CHP) even hints at bringing Tayyip Erdoğan to civil courts for trial, since he will be deprived of his immunity after the possible ban on his political rights.

Many sources in Ankara would not go that far, and what I gathered in this visit is that the expectation of the harshest verdict has somehow diminished. Many put their bets on a more lenient decision.

I went to Ankara to clear my mind; yet I returned even more confused.

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