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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Turkey's uncertain political future
Riot police in Istanbul
Turkey has already seen riots over its economic crisis
By regional analyst Adrian Foreman

The decision by Turkey's Constitutional Court to ban the main opposition party, the Virtue Party, for "anti-secular activities" raises more questions than it answers.

The court's decision is a compromise, but it is not an easy one.

In effect, it puts the immediate political future of the country in the hands of the 100 remaining Virtue Party deputies in parliament.

Recai Kutan, Virtue Party leader
The Virtue Party, led by Recai Kutan, is divided
If they refuse to accept their new status as independents now their party is banned, and instead resign en-masse, they could force general elections, which in turn would probably cause political and economic instability.

The likelihood, however, is that they will carefully think through their strategy, because the Virtue Party is divided.

Reformists in the party want a close accommodation with Turkey's strongly secular power elite, and they are poised to challenge the long-standing control over the party by more conservative Islamists.

Both sides may prefer to wait for uncertainty to be resolved over constitutional changes currently being considered, which would make it more difficult to ban a political party.

European Court decision

They are also waiting for a European Court decision which they hope will overturn the earlier ban on their predecessor organisation, the Welfare Party.

But in the meanwhile, with no immediate need for elections, the government can at least continue making headway on difficult economic reforms necessary for vital international loans.

Financial markets were already jittery in advance of the court decision.

Another currency and stock-market slump like a few months ago, and uncertainty over further International Monetary Fund support, would raise the spectre of renewed political instability and street protests.

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See also:

11 Jun 01 | Europe
Turkish opposition faces ban
07 May 99 | Europe
Analysis: A headscarf too far?
16 May 01 | Europe
Turkey gains $8bn loan
06 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
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