The Turkish chief prosecutor’s decision to seek a ban on the ruling AK Party and banish its senior figures to the political wilderness has exposed the deep divisions running through Turkish society.
Representing the secular establishment, the prosecution maintains the AK is trying to impose an Islamist agenda on Turkey — a claim it forcefully denies.
The schism deepened in January when the government tried to lift a ban on university students wearing Islamic headscarves.
Protests followed and eventually the constitutional court annulled the move in June.
Some believe the government is seeking a way out of the confrontation.
Huseyin Bagci, Political Sciences Professor at the Middle East Technical University said: “This government is also realising that they made strategic mistakes and now the question is how to retreat from this strategic decision to normal democratic life.”
But Turkey’s generals remain deeply suspicious of the AK’s intentions and it is they, some analysts believe, who are the driving force behind what is being portrayed as a “judicial coup.”
The generals and their allies see themselves as the protectors of the secular state but some Islamic historians say their fears are misplaced.
Ali Ozek of the Endowment for Islamic Scientific said: “Ever since an Islamic party came to power in Turkey, secularists have been saying that they will forbid many freedoms, in accordance with sharia law, but they forget that even during the Ottoman empire in this country nobody was punished in the name of sharia, for example for things like drinking alcohol.”
Turkey has banned more than 20 parties over the past 50 years, including the AK’s two forerunners, However the government’s popularity is greater than ever before, no doubt at least partially based on Turkey’s solid economic growth.
Since 2002, it has seen it support surging from 34 to 47 percent in July. Closure of the party would almost certainly lead to an early election and put the brakes on Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU.