Turkey's ruling Islamist party faces ban

Turkey's chief prosecutor yesterday launched moves which could lead to the banning of the country's main government party.

The Welfare Party and its Islamist leader, Necmettin Erbakan, have never got on with Turkey's secular-minded lawyers. Yesterday, Vural Savas, the chief prosecutor investigating the party, formally opened a case in the Constitutional Court, arguing that the Welfare Party endangers the basic tenets of the secularist Turkish state. If it is successful, Welfare will be closed down.

The Constitutional Court has rarely shrunk from banning parties it considers a threat to Turkey's unitary, secular identity. Pro-Kurdish and leftist parties are traditional favourites, although another Islamist party led by Mr Erbakan was shut down in the early 1970s. This is the first time, however, that the court has been asked to train its sights on a party in power.

If the court sympathises with Mr Savas, the party stands little chance of survival. "Welfare is dragging the country towards civil war," was the conclusion of the report written by the chief prosecutor. The court's deliberations will rely in large measure on this dossier.

Mr Savas yesterday listed 18 examples of what he called Welfare's violations of the constitution. Some of these confirm inflammatory statements made by Mr Erbakan himself, while the embattled Prime Minister was a rabble- rousing opposition leader. Since then, Mr Erbakan has curbed his own rhetorical excess, but has had less luck with unruly colleagues. Mr Savas's report highlights this assertion by Ibrahim Cilik, a Welfare deputy: "If the Imam Hatips (religious schools) are closed while Welfare is in power, blood will flow. It will be worse than Algeria. I want blood to flow."

Banning the Welfare Party, might, paradoxically be the best way to ensure that blood does indeed flow. Mr Erbakan evidently agrees. Yesterday, he declared, "secularism has no better guarantor than Welfare".

Other Turks argue that the party provides a safety valve for hard-line Islamists who would otherwise favour armed struggle. Without this valve, so the theory goes, the extremists will conclude - with some justification - that Turkish democracy is deficient, and take up arms.

Perhaps more important are the political pressures to which the Constitutional Court - as guarantor of a judicial system rarely considered impartial - will be subjected. When the court announces its decision in a few months, it will do so with the authority of Turkey's establishment.