Sometime this summer, Turkey's Constitutional Court will decide whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) violated "the principles of a democratic and secular republic." Most Turkish journalists and analysts expect a guilty verdict: While the European press most often reports on Turkish debates over women's headscarves, the AKP has attacked the secular establishment in other ways: It has replaced Turkey's technocratic banking board with Saudi-trained Islamic banking specialists; moved to retire forcibly secular judges and prosecutors and replace them with religious AKP supporters; and banned alcohol in municipalities across the country.
The Court's penalties could range from a judicial warning and suspension of the AKP's right to receive state political party financing to formal dissolution of the party and suspension of leading AKP officials, including the Prime Minister and President Abdullah Gul.
Neither verdict will end Turkey's political crisis. During the 2007 elections, the AKP won 47 percent of a vote, a landslide of historic proportions in Turkey's multiparty system. On one hand, any ban on the party may lead to complaints of disenfranchisement; on the other hand, issuing only a warning may embolden the prime minister to defy constitutional norms with impunity. Either way, the verdict will disrupt municipal slated for autumn.
Even if the Prime Minister is banned from politics, he may still run for office as an independent under Turkish election law and so could resume his premiership in a matter of days after new elections are held. Conversely, he may decline to run for office, rely upon fiercely loyal supporters in parliament, and manage the government informally as a private citizen.
Returning to private life may be unacceptable to Erdoğan, though. He has accumulated millions of dollars during his tenure as mayor of Istanbul and prime minister, but now faces 13 separate corruption cases. So long as he remains in parliament, he retains immunity but, out-of-office, he is fair game for prosecutors. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face more than 30 separate corruption probes.
Complicating the situation is the impotency of the opposition. Both the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are led by elderly and uncharismatic leaders unpopular among their own party members, let alone the general public.
With no ready political alternative to the AKP, this summer's verdict may mark the beginning of a period of prolonged political instability into a state aspiring to European Union membership.