ANKARA (Reuters) – A state prosecutor asked Turkey’s top court on Friday to shut the ruling AK Party for anti-secular activities, intensifying tensions between the secular elite and the Islamist-rooted government.
Turkish television channels quoted the Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as saying he also wanted President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and senior AK Party members banned from politics for five years.
He said a government move to lift a ban on women students wearing the Muslim headscarf amounted to anti-secular actions.
Turkey, which is seeking European Union membership, is predominantly Muslim but an officially secular system.
“With a political party with this much of a majority in parliament, we must think what Turkey will win and what it will lose from a demand like this,” Gul was quoted by state-run Anatolian news agency as saying in Dakar, Senegal.
The AK Party has been locked in a battle with Turkey’s secularist establishment, including judges and army generals, since it first came to power in 2002. Secularists says the AK Party is seeking to undermine separation of state and religion.
The AK Party denies it has any Islamist agenda.
It was not immediately clear whether the move would hurt Turkish financial markets which were closed when the announcement was made.
“We think that the application is really bad news, as it will increase political risk factors in the country,” Ozgur Altug, analyst at Raymond James Securities, said in a note.
“The court case has even the potential to slow down the reform process, privatization and foreign direct investment inflows,” he said.
Erdogan immediately called an emergency meeting of AK Party leaders.
Tensions intensified after an AK Party-dominated parliament last month approved a constitutional amendment to lift a ban on women students from wearing the Islamic-style headscarf at university.
The file sent by the prosecutor to the Constitutional Court said, according to Anatolian, that easing the ban on women wearing the headscarf and tightening certain regulations on alcohol consumption were evidence of anti-secular activities.
“AK Party has become a hotbed of activities against secularism,” Anatolian quoted the prosecutor’s file as saying.
It is the first time the AK Party, which won a sweeping reelection last July, was taken to the secular-minded Constitutional Court by a state prosecutor to close the party.
Ten years ago Turkey’s Constitutional Court closed the ruling Welfare Party on the grounds that it was considered too Islamist.
“Recent changes to Turkey’s constitution have made it much more difficult to close down political parties in Turkey,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a note.
“Even if the AK Party is not closed down, the case could last anything from six months to a year, raising the possibility of increased uncertainty and political instability.”
The AK Party was obliged to present its preliminary defense within one month, the Anatolian news agency said.
AK Party members expressed shock.
“It is a really shocking development. There is no proof that the AK Party is against secularism. The party, the prime minister have said at every opportunity that they adhere to secularism,” AK Party deputy Zafer Uskul told broadcaster NTV.
“I don’t find it likely that AK Party will be closed, but even opening such a case is unfortunate,” he said.
The Constitutional Court is already reviewing an appeal by the nationalist-minded opposition Republican People’s Party on the validity of parliament’s constitutional amendments last month to partially lift the headscarf ban.
The secular elite regards the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and thus a threat to secularism, one of the founding principles of modern Turkey.