What to expect from the closure case against Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has accepted a request by prosecutors to begin a trial against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and scores of its senior members for alleged links to terrorism.
The court accepted an indictment lodged by Bekir Şahin, the chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, on Monday. He is calling for the HDP to be disbanded, citing alleged links and cooperation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in seeking to destroy the unity of the Turkish state.
The court’s acceptance of the indictment marks the beginning of formal attempts to close the HDP, Turkey’s third-largest party in parliament, after the arrest and imprisonment of several of its senior leaders and the seizure by the government of nearly all the local administrations it controls.
The court said it would examine requests by Şahin to ban 451 of the party’s members and freeze its accounts at a later date.
The HDP, which alleges that the case against it is politically motivated, says the legal proceedings will only strengthen its support.
Observers of the case are now seeking to ascertain how it will proceed.
The court will initially send the indictment prepared by the prosecution to the HDP and request an initial written defence. The party will have 60 days to submit the required documents and may ask for a further 30 days if required.
The HDP’s defence will then be submitted to Şahin, who will provide written arguments in response. Then a hearing will be held in the court’s general assembly, where Şahin will present his opinion to court officials.
The hearing will be followed by a verbal defence presented by HDP administrators and lawyers before the same judges.
The court’s rapporteur will then collect all verbal and written statements, evidence, and the HDP’s defence to begin compiling a report on the case.
This process is expected to take between four and five months.
Constitutional Court officials assigned to the case will then begin reviewing the case and associated evidence. This could take up to a month.
The court’s final verdict on the case should be delivered in around eight months, or one year at the latest, according to the timescale of previous cases. But the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its political allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are expected to pressure the court to speed up its ruling.
Following the court hearings, judges will then decide whether to accept or reject the prosecution’s request to close the HDP.
It is worth noting here that the AKP, following a closure case filed against it in 2007, introduced constitutional changes allowing for financial penalties or a partial or complete withdrawal of Treasury support for a political party rather than closure. Party members may also be penalised as an alternative to shuttering the organisation.
For the Constitutional Court’s general assembly to decide in favour of closure, there must a two-thirds majority. This means that at least 10 out of the 15 court judges must vote in favour of the HDP’s disbandment.
Şahin has called for the permanent closure of the HDP, citing Articles 68 and 69 of the Turkish Constitution, which say political parties must conduct activities in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the law.
The HDP is accused of seeking to "destroy the unity of the state", thereby breaking a central pillar of the Constitution.
If the Constitutional Court rules in favour of closure, then the HDP will cease to be a legal entity. This would also mean that all administrators, supervisors and administrators of the party deemed to have caused its closure would receive five-year bans from belonging to a political party. The party’s immovable properties, monetary wealth and bank accounts would be transferred to the Treasury. The court may however choose to ban from political some rather than all of the 451 people listed in the indictment.
Should the court find the evidence insufficient and reject the prosecution’s case, it may decide to partially or fully halt Treasury funding to the party. This would allow for the HDP to retain its legal status and to continue activities without a political ban on its administrators and members.
Far less likely is that the Constitutional Court rejects the case and takes no action. Such a decision would create its own political upheaval, drawing the ire of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his junior coalition partner, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. The court would not have the courage to take such a decision.
Should the Constitutional Court approve the closure of the HDP and ban the 451 members from politics, then the officials would be unable to found or become a member of another political party for five years.
Should the court ban lawmakers of the HDP and they are not convicted of another crime or stripped of their parliamentary immunity, then they will be free to retain their seats in the assembly as independent MPs. HDP members, administrators and lawmakers, who do not receive a ban will be able to remain in politics as a member of another political party.
HDP co-chairs Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan have vowed to be involved in the party’s defence throughout. They are looking to form a defence team of constitutional, penal and political-legal experts.
The HDP’s potential closure would naturally bring about serious political ramifications. But the HDP has various other options, depending on the trajectory of the case. The party may choose to dissolve itself to effectively drop the case against it and form a new political group, or to hold an extraordinary congress to dissolve itself and join forces with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party, which maintains one seat in parliament. The HDP may also opt to dissolve and have its lawmakers join another party in a bid to drop the closure case.
But the HDP leadership has made it clear that they are not abandoning their posts and will fight the case against them.
If the government were to call a snap election during the trial, the HDP would be able to participate. However, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council may use a series of methods to place hurdles before the HDP, including rejecting party candidates for various reasons.
There is also the question of which party the six million supporters of the HDP will throw their weight behind in the case of closure. The ruling AKP, its two breakaway parties - the Future Party (FP) and the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) - and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) may seek to garner the votes of HDP supporters.
There is talk of HDP candidates being nominated for election on the CHP ticket. But such a move is unlikely to go down well with the right-wing nationalist Good Party (IP), which is in a political alliance with the CHP.