Turkey headscarf case closely tied to AK Party fate

The survival of Turkey's ruling party and its prime minister could depend on the outcome of court deliberations starting on Thursday on whether students should be allowed to wear Muslim headscarves at university, reported World Bulletin.

Turkey's Constitutional Court agreed in March to take up a case brought by the Court of Appeals chief prosecutor, who seeks the closure of the AK Party, and the banning of 71 members for allegedly breaking the strict rules of the secular state.

Before that controversial case begins, the same court will start considering whether to reject a constitutional amendment passed by parliament in February that allows female students freedom to wear the headscarf on campus.

"If the court upholds the appeal by the opposition CHP it will strengthen the prosecutor's case against the ruling party to shut it down," said Semih Idiz, a leading Turkish columnist.

"The prosecutor's case rests heavily on the headscarf issue." The verdict on the headscarf amendment, which sparked the case to close the AK Party, could come as early as Thursday.

The party regards as a bid by arch-conservative opponents to dislodge a government with a huge parliamentary majority.

Turkish financial markets have fallen on fears of prolonged political uncertainty in the European Union-applicant country.

The AK Party says the right to wear the headscarf at university is a personal and religious freedom but they have remained quiet on the issue since the closure case was opened.

Predominantly Muslim, Turkey was founded as a secular state in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The government has long complained the judiciary is out of touch with modern Turkey and says many judges need to change their mindset, a charge many Turkish intellectuals back.

"I have the feeling the old elite and representatives in the higher judiciary are pretty clear about their intentions regarding the closure case. I think they will go for closure," Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University said. "I don't think the headscarf case matters."

The closure case also aims to ban Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul from belonging to a political party for five years.

Turkey is no stranger to banning parties. The courts have banned two dozen parties for Islamist or Kurdish separatist activities over recent decades. In 2001, a predecessor to the AK Party was outlawed.

A senior AK Party member, who declined to be named, recently told Reuters that a favourable ruling in the headscarf case might not necessarily mean the party would avert closure.

"The reason the court could rule against the CHP is that the constitutional amendment does not specifically mention the headscarf but rather focuses on the right to education," the source said.

The court may issue a note making clear the amendment could not be a basis for wearing the headscarf, the source said.

"There are significant hurdles that the new party would have to face, including the risk of a new lawsuit on charges that it represents a continuation of the AKP," Wolfango Piccoli, analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a note.

"Similarly, Erdogan's expected attempt to regain the position of prime minister by running for parliament as an independent candidate in a special election is unlikely to be as smooth as the market consensus envisions."  

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