AK Party plans to cooperate with MHP for scarf freedom

October 22, 2010, Friday/ 17:33:00
Undeterred by an about-face in the main opposition party's approach to the lifting of the headscarf ban at universities, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is planning to join forces with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to take steps in parliament to abolish the notorious ban in defiance of an implicit “closure case” threat which came from a top prosecutor.

Bekir Bozdağ, the AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman, told Today's Zaman that his party does not believe that a second closure case will be filed against it due to its efforts regarding the freedom to wear headscarves. The AK Party escaped closure in 2008 after a constitutional amendment package was passed in Parliament.

The package was intended to allow the Muslim headscarf to be worn on university campuses. “We consider the headscarf ban a violation of human rights and freedoms. The AK Party will not change its ideas due to the prospect of a closure case. We do not believe that a new closure case will be filed,” Bozdağ stated. The use of headscarves at universities was banned after the 1997 postmodern coup.

Rumors about a new closure case started on Wednesday after Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya released a statement in which he harshly criticized parliamentary efforts to lift the ban on the use of headscarves at universities. The chief prosecutor argued that the freedom to wear the Muslim garment at universities would damage secularism, implying that the AK Party may face a new closure case due to its decisive moves to abolish the ban. The AK Party now plans to cooperate with the MHP, which is in favor of lifting the notorious ban. Oktay Vural, the MHP parliamentary group deputy chairman, stated openly on Thursday that his party will support constitutional steps for the settlement of the headscarf problem.

EU to stay out of Turkey’s headscarf debate

The European Union has said it cannot take a position on Turkey’s headscarf debate claiming there is no common implementation on the issue among member countries. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle’s spokesperson Angela Filöte said they are keeping a close eye on Turkey’s headscarf discussions and noted that the European Court of Human Rights leaves the headscarf decision to the will of countries. Indicating that EU countries have different regulations and implementations on the headscarf issue Filöte said for that reason, the EU Commission will not be taking a position on this issue, as reported by Anatolia news agency in Brussels. The European Union is expected to welcome a set of constitutional amendments passed in a referendum on Sept. 12 but criticize increasing restraints on the freedom of expression in an upcoming report assessing Turkey’s progress in fulfilling membership criteria. The EU Commission will release its annual progress report on Turkey on Nov. 9. İstanbul Today’s Zaman

The AK Party and the MHP cooperated on the constitutional amendment in 2008 to lift the ban, and the amendment was passed in Parliament with the approval of 411 deputies. But the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appealed it at the Constitutional Court, which eventually nullified the amendment. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) is also expected to lend support to intra-party efforts against the headscarf ban with its 20 deputies in Parliament. According to Bozdağ, the AK Party is open to cooperation with anyone who supports the end of the controversial ban.

There were claims that the ruling party would shelve headscarf plans after Yalçınkaya’s statement and ignore the messages coming from the MHP on cooperation regarding the settlement of the years-old problem. The AK Party, however, denied the claims and signaled that it would go ahead with steps to achieve headscarf freedom with the MHP.

All eyes are currently on the AK Party, the MHP and the BDP for the establishment of a joint parliamentary commission to discuss the headscarf ban and work on alternative legal methods to get rid of the ban.

The ruling party has yet to decide whether to amend the Constitution or pass a new law for freedom to wear headscarves on university campuses. Members of the party who are also experts on law argue that a new constitutional amendment package to lift the ban may increase tension in society and lead to even deeper problems stemming from the headscarf deadlock. The AK Party plans to decide which path to take after a compromise with the MHP.

The AK Party’s Bozdağ lashed out at the Supreme Court of Appeals chief prosecutor for his threatening statement. He said no individual or body has the authority to threaten Parliament and political parties. “Turkey is governed by the separation of powers. But no one should see himself as superior to Parliament. What duty falls to the chief prosecutor is to implement the laws introduced by Parliament,” he said.

Bozdağ also accused Yalçınkaya of acting like a “municipal power.”

“The Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor’s Office cannot act like a municipal police officer. Municipal police officers take preventive measures. With his statement, the chief prosecutor acted like a municipal police officer. He threatened the ruling party with closure on an issue which is still under deliberation among political parties,” he noted.

In the meantime, a group of jurists announced that they would file a criminal complaint against Yalçınkaya. The complaint had not been filed by the time Today’s Zaman went to print. Jurists believe that the chief prosecutor issued the statement to increase his popularity among members of the high judiciary because he is planning to run as candidate for the chairmanship of the Supreme Court of Appeals.

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