In Turkey, a Democratic Disaster Narrowly Averted

In Turkey, a Democratic Disaster Narrowly Averted

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- It seems a rarity these days that a political party's religiosity would work against it. In the last several decades, parties with religious affiliations have scored victory after victory in voting booths around the world, and seldom does their piety put them in jeopardy. Yet in Turkey, where the country's secular establishment still wields considerable power, that's very nearly what happened this week when its national court narrowly avoided banning the majority AK Party -- a coalition of moderates with decidedly Islamic roots -- from the country's political scene.

The court's decision brought an end to a political saga that has dominated Turkey's political landscape for the last four months. Alongside a slew of other notable events -- an allegation of a possible military coup, a series of governmental police raids, and at least two major terrorist attacks -- it was Wednesday's decision that most threatened to destabilize the country. For a nation dealing with a host of pressing political troubles, banning the majority party and throwing the country into political turmoil would have been catastrophic.

The court's deliberations weren't easy, however, and the margin was razor thin. At Wednesday's press conference, a weary judiciary revealed that it had fallen just shy of the seven votes needed to expel the party, with six voting for, one against, and four decisive swing-votes crafting the compromise -- to cut the party's funding but not ban it outright -- that would eventually be the outcome. It didn't take much to read between the lines. "We believe that the political party concerned will get the message it should from the verdict," Hasim Kiliç, the court's president, told reporters. The message: You can stay as long as you don't tamper with the country's secular foundation.

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