Middle East

Background: Necmettin Erbakan

Background: Necmettin Erbakan

Necmettin Erbakan, who has sought for years to integrate Islam into mainstream politics and who has become in the process one of the country's best-known Islamic leaders, has already had several of his organizations banned by Turkey's Constitutional Court.

Erbakan's first party, the National Order Party, was banned in 1972. Undeterred, Erbakan formed the National Salvation Party, which was dismantled in 1980 after Gen. Kenan Evran seized power in a bloodless coup and imposed martial law.

The Welfare Party followed, and as its leader, Erbakan was elected Turkey's first Islamist prime minister in 1995. Three years later, however, the Constitutional Court banned the Welfare Party as well, on the grounds that it was engaged in fundamentalist activity and was violating the secular principles of the Turkish constitution. The verdict barred Erbakan from politics for five years, but, as has happened to the Virtue Party today, most of party's deputies kept their seats in Parliament and simply formed a new party under a new name with a new party program. This new incarnation, the Virtue Party, immediately did very well, capturing nearly a fifth of the seats in Parliament in the 1999 elections.

The manner of the Virtue Party's birth seemed all too familiar to the chief prosecutor who in 1999 indicted the party on grounds that it was merely the continuation of the banned Welfare Party and that it continued to violate the constitution's secular principles.

And while the constitutional court, in its June 22 verdict, threw out the accusation that the Virtue Party was merely a new incarnation of the banned Welfare Party, it upheld the second.