On July 22, the Turkish Constitutional Court announced that it would meet on July 28 to begin considering its final verdict in the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In a statement to the Turkish media issued after the decision, Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic warned against speculation about the date on which the verdict could be announced. “The process could take three days, five days or 10 days,” he said (NTV, CNNTurk, Dogan Haber Ajansi, July 22).
In previous closure cases against political parties in Turkey it has taken the Constitutional Court at least eight months to deliver a verdict. As a result, when Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya filed his application for the AKP’s closure on March 14, a verdict was not expected until late 2008 at the earliest (see EDM, March 17). However, Yalcinkaya, the AKP and 11 members of the Constitutional Court’s panel of judges are aware that prolonging the case will further damage the country’s already precarious political and economic stability; and have all sought to conclude the process as quickly as possible.
But, as a result, it now looks as if the verdict will be announced at around the same time as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is due to chair a meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS) on August 1-4, which will decide on the annual round of promotions and transfers within the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). Most critically, YAS will nominate a successor to Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit, who is due to step down at the end of August after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 67. Buyukanit is expected to be succeeded by Land Forces Commander General Ilker Basbug (born 1943), who will then serve as Chief of Staff until 2010 (see EDM, July 3).
Basbug is generally regarded within the TAF as one of the most able officers of his generation, combining a formidable intellect with an implacable commitment to the principle of secularism enshrined in the Turkish constitution by the republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). As a result, in recent months Basbug has been subjected to a defamation campaign in the pro-AKP media, in the hope of preventing his appointment as chief of staff at the YAS meeting. In recent days, AKP supporters have even begun speculating that Erdogan will veto Basbug’s promotion and appoint General Aydogan Babaoglu, the current commander of the Turkish Air Force, as Buyukanit’s successor.
AKP officials and their sympathizers in the media have also begun spreading rumors that Basbug has promised Erdogan that he would use his influence to ensure that the Constitutional Court lets the AKP off with a warning rather than closing the party down. In return, Basbug will be appointed chief of staff and the ongoing judicial investigation into the ultranationalist Ergenekon gang will stop short of trying to implicate serving, high-ranking members of the TAF. There is no evidence to support such rumors. In fact, they directly contradict what is known about the characters and personal convictions of both Basbug and the members of the Constitutional Court.
Perhaps most worryingly, those spreading the rumors would appear to be implicitly confirming suspicions that the Ergenekon investigation is at least partly politically motivated. Although the Ergenekon gang is not—as the AKP’s opponents have claimed—a fiction invented by the government, there is considerable evidence to suggest that pro-AKP officials have used a kernel of truth as a platform for a campaign to try to implicate and discredit not only the government’s opponents but also some AKP dissidents. The 2,455 page indictment which was delivered to the courts on July 14 contains not only hard evidence but also speculation, hearsay, and disinformation (NTV, CNNTurk, July 14).
A similar process occurred following the arrest in November 2005 of gendarmerie intelligence officers for detonating an improvised explosive device (IED) in a bookshop run by an alleged supporter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeastern town of Semdinli. As part of a defamation campaign against Buyukanit—who at the time was commander of the Land Forces and also known to be a hardliner—to try to prevent him from becoming chief of staff, pro-AKP judicial officials seized on an admission by Buyukanit that he had met one of the intelligence officers ten years earlier and attempted to include him in the indictment against them. Buyukanit was never taken to court but the attempt to file charges against him politicized the subsequent trial of the intelligence officers. As commander of the Land Forces, Buyukanit could not have been involved in the chain of command related to the bombing. But the attempts to implicate him distracted attention from key questions such as how far up in the gendarmerie chain of command knowledge of, and approval for, the Semdinli bombing went.
The announcement of the date for the beginning of the final discussions of the verdict in the AKP closure case has also triggered more plausible speculation: such as who will chair the YAS meeting if the AKP is banned and Erdogan banned from membership of a political party before August 1. However, in reality, even if the Constitutional Court announces a verdict before the YAS meeting, it will probably be several weeks before it is published in the Official Gazette; allowing Erdogan or another leading member of the AKP to chair the YAS meeting. Similarly, despite the recent speculation and rumors, the expectation remains that the Constitutional Court will eventually ban the AKP and that Basbug will, as predicted, succeed Buyukanit as chief of staff.