Turkey is discussing the closure of a political party as it did many times in the history of the Republic.
The chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation on Wednesday (March 17) submitted an indictment seeking the closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for its alleged involvement in “terror” activities.
The power to close down a political party lies with the Constitutional Court in Turkey. Since its foundation in 1963, it has closed 26 parties. Before the establishment of the top court, several political parties had been closed by the Council of Minister, military courts and local courts.
Military courts also closed down or banned the activities of 18 political parties, including the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the founding party of the Republic, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), following the 1980 military coup.
Before the 1980 coup, leaders of which abolished all political parties at the time, the Constitutional Court ruled for the closure of parties in all six applications it received.
The military government allowed the establishment of political parties in 1983. Since then, the top court has closed 20 political parties while refusing to shut down 17 parties.
Here is a short history of the closure of political parties in Turkey:
The Welfare Party and the Virtue Party
The coalition government formed by the Welfare Party (RP), a predecessor of the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the True Path Party (DYP) got a vote of confidence from the parliament on June 28, 1996. RP Chair Necmettin Erbakan became the prime minister.
Then Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation Vural Savaş filed a case for the closure of the RP for its “acts against the principle of the secular republic” on May 21, 1997. The coalition was dissolved in June 1997 when Erbakan resigned.
At the end of the eight-month trial, the Constitutional Court closed down the RP, which got the highest share of votes in the 1996 election, on January 16, 1998.
A five-year ban from politics was imposed on senior RP politicians Necmettin Erbakan, Şevket Kazan, Ahmet Tekdal, Şevki Yılmaz, Hasan Hüseyin Ceylan ve İbrahim Halil Çelik.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a member of the RP and the İstanbul Metropolitan Mayor at the time.
Following the closure of the RP, its members founded the Virtue Party (FP) and 150 former RP deputies became members of it. In the next election on April 18, 1999, FP got more than 15 percent of the votes and gained 111 seats in the parliament.
Merve Kavakçı, an İstanbul MP from the FP, came to the parliament’s general assembly for the oath-taking ceremony wearing a headscarf, which was prohibited at the time. This caused bitter debates in the parliament and Kavakçı left the assembly amid protests by other parties’ deputies.
Chief Prosecutor Savaş filed a case for the closure of the FP on May 7, 1999. The Constitutional Court began discussing the application on June 11, 2001, and ruled for the party’s closure on June 22. It also banned MPs Nazlı Ilıcak, Merve Kavakçı, Bekir Sobacı, Ramazan Yenidede and Mehmet Sılay from politics for five years.
After the National Order Party (MSP), the National Salvation Party (MNP) and the RP, the FP became the fourth party of the Erbakan-led “National Vision” (Milli Görüş) movement that was closed.
The FP’s closure led to disagreements between the “traditionalists” and “reformists” in the National Vision movement. Led by Recai Kutan, the traditionalists founded the Felicity Party (SP) in July 2001. Most FP deputies joined the party, the reformists, who were now stating that they were no longer National Visionists, gathered under the leadership of former FP deputy Abdullah Gül and established the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which would later be headed by Erdoğan.
The closure case against the AKP
In 2008, the AKP’s eighth year as a single-party government, the then chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation, Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya, filed a case seeking the closure of the party. The prosecutor alleged that the AKP had become “the focal point of the activities against secularism” and demanded a five-year political ban for 71 people, including then Prime Minister Erdoğan and then President Gül.
The Constitutional Court accepted the indictment on March 31, 2008, and the AKP submitted its defense on June 16.
The Constitutional Court ruled on July 30 that the party should not be closed but its treasury aid should be cut to a certain extent.
It rejected the request for the party’s closure by a 6-5 vote and accepted to cut the aid to the party by an 11-1 vote.
In the next election in 2011, the AKP got 49.8 percent of the votes and continued its single-party rule. AKP members stated many times that they were against party closures and introduced legislation making it difficult to shut down parties in 2010 and 2015.
The closure of pro-Kurdish parties
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) probably has the most experienced politicians in terms of party closures. The Peoples’ Labor Party (HEP), the first Kurdish issue-focused party that was represented in the parliament, was closed in July 1993. The Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP), which was founded in case the HEP is closed, was also shut down in November 1993.
Kurdish deputies then joined the Democracy Party (DEP). In 1994, they were stripped of parliamentary seats and the party was closed.
Founded in May 1994, the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HADEP) was closed in 2003 and its successor Democratic Society Party (DTP) was closed in 2009.
From the HEP to the HDP
The HEP was founded on June 7, 1990, by some of the former members of the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP), including Ahmet Türk. ın the parliamentary elections on October 20, 1991, HEP politicians competed in the ranks of the SHP, considering that the HEP wouldn’t surpass the 10-percent election threshold. Twenty-one HEP politicians were elected as SHP deputies.
When one of them, Leyla Zana, attempted to take her parliamentary oath in Kurdish, a crisis erupted.
After that, HEP politicians resigned from the SHP and joined their own party.
On July 3, 1992, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation filed a case demanding the closure of the HEP for “having the purpose of destroying the indivisible integrity of the state with its country and nation” and “becoming a focal point for political activities against laws.”
On July 14, 1993, the Constitutional Court unanimously voted for the closure of the HEP and the expulsion of HEP Chair and SHP Diyarbakır Deputy Fehmi Işıklar from the parliament. Eighteen other MPs did not lose their parliamentary seats because they became members of the HEP two days after the closure case was filed. They later joined the DEP, which was founded in 1993 against the possibility of the HEP’s closure.
On March 3, 1994, several DEP deputies, including Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Türk, Sırrı Sakık, and Orhan Doğan, were stripped of MP status and was remanded in custody on March 17, 1994.
The Constitutional Court closed down the DEP on June 16, 1994. Its members joined the HADEP, which was founded on May 11, 1994.
The party got 4 percent of the votes in the 1995 election and 4.75 percent in the 1999 election and failed to gain representation in the parliament.
In the 1999 local elections, it won 37 municipalities, with 11 city municipalities, in the predominantly Kurdish-populated eastern and southeastern regions.
On March 13, 2003, the party was closed because of “becoming a focal point of illegal activities.” Forty-six HADEP members, including its chair Murat Bozlak, were banned from politics for five years.
Prior to the HADEP’s closure, the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP) was founded.
The DEHAP got nearly two million votes with a share of 6.23 percent. In the same year, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation, Sabih Kanadoğlu, filed a case for the closure of the party. While the case was continuing, the DEHAP dissolved itself on November 19, 2005.
Its members joined the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was founded in the same year.
In the 2007 elections, DTP politicians competed as independent candidates to bypass the election threshold. Twenty-one MPs joined the party after being elected.
The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation filed a lawsuit for the closure of the party on November 16, 2007, after the Party’s Van Provincial Chair Veysi Dilekçi said, “PKK is a reality of this country, we have to accept that. We don’t have an organic but an emotional bond with the PKK.”
The party was closed for “being a focal point of activities against the indivisible integrity of the state with its country and nation” and 37 of its members were given a five-year political ban. Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk were stripped of MP status.
The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which succeeded the DTP, also competed in the 2011 election with independent candidates. Thirty-six MPs joined the party after being elected.
BDP deputies joined the HDP in 2014 after its foundation and the BDP changed its name to Democratic Regions Party (DBP).