Why the AKP supports Erdogan’s gamble

Among Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s characteristics is the ability to issue provocative statements guaranteed to trigger the wrath of his political opponents. Yet last weekend in the Black Sea’s Rize province, the words of the President of Turkey and co-founder of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) struck a crucial nerve with the opposition: “Whether it is accepted or not, Turkey’s system of government has changed. What needs to be done now is to clarify and confirm the legal framework of this de facto situation with a new constitution.”

Erdogan’s remarks about a de-facto presidential system may be a fairly accurate reflection of his first year in office, during which the president chaired cabinet meetings for the first time in the history of the AKP. But it was quite a blunt move to admit the rules that have governed the Turkish Republic will be shaped to suit his own ambitions. It was also an anticipated confirmation Erdogan’s long standing goal to transform the largely ceremonial presidential post into an executive one is at the distance of a new election, which could give the ruling AKP a renewed majority in parliament, or so the president hopes.

Stirring controversy

Most likely, Erdogan’s intention was to steer even more controversy days before the last attempts to form a coalition government, which if successful could work against his plans. As a senior government official told Reuters, Erdogan “is getting what he wants after a masterfully managed two months. It was clear since the beginning that in no way did he consider any other option than single AK Party rule.”

The boldness of Erdogan’s comments is even more striking when considering Turkey is going through its worst period of instability in recent years

Manuel Almeida

Opposition leaders reacted vigorously. Devlet Bahceli, leader of right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said “we cannot tolerate a home-product Hitler, Stalin or Qaddafi. Turkey is bigger than one person.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), accused Erdogan of staging a coup the same way military officer and then President of Turkey, Kenan Evren, prepared the ground for the 1980 military coup he led by deposing Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed the failure of the talks with Bahceli to form a coalition government. This followed last week’s unsuccessful talks between the leaderships of the AKP and the CHP. Then on Tuesday evening, it was announced Davutoglu would hand over the mandate to form a new government back to Erdogan. According the constitution, if the prime minister is unable to form a government by August 23, the president has to dissolve the cabinet and call for the formation an interim power-sharing government until autumn’s election.

Period of instability

The boldness of Erdogan’s comments is even more striking when considering Turkey is going through its worst period of instability in recent years. To the political deadlock add the rising violence between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants and the ensuing collapse of the peace process with the Kurds, as well as the growing threat from ISIS now being bombed from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase.

However, the president clearly believes this instability can play to his advantage. The logic is that at a time of great uncertainty, many voters will reconsider their choice in June’s election and recast their vote in the coming autumn election in favour of the AKP, the party that guided Turkey toward years of prosperity and stability via consecutive parliamentary majorities. There is also the hope among AKP ranks that the resumption of the conflict with the Kurds can affect the electoral results of pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). In June’s election, the HDP won 13.1 percent of the vote, surpassing for the first time in its history the 10 percent election threshold and preventing the AKP from winning another majority.

Given the potentially huge negative impact of Erdogan’s high risk bet, reliant on instability, uncertainty and polarization, do AKP’s high cadres remain united around the president’s strategy?

Divergences

The divergences in both style and substance between Erdogan and former president and co-founder of the AKP, Abdullah Gul, are well known and the latest episodes are only likely to deepen their differences. But despite his popularity among party cadres, Gul has largely kept away from the party’s spotlight. Nevertheless, various Turkish analysts believe there is growing discontent within the AKP about the impact the president’s personal ambitions have had on the party’s poor electoral result in June.

Earlier this year, the influential Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made a series of public comments quite critical of Erdogan’s meddling in the government-led peace process with the Kurds and the polarizing effect of the president’s approach. Another possible sign of rifts within the AKP came in February this year, with the resignation of Turkey’s intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan. Erdogan reacted negatively to Fidan’s resignation, which was defended by Davutoglu. Fidan’s intention was to run for parliament, but he ended up withdrawing his resignation in March.

Nevertheless, the AKP seems the have closed its ranks in recent months, a move that the clout Erdogan wields helps to explain. Above all, a public split within the AKP at this point could be fatal for its ambitions in autumn’s election. At stake is nothing less than the AKP’s dominant position in Turkish politics, the lure of government jobs in a new cabinet, and the survival of the patronage network that grew around AKP’s hegemony in Turkey. However, it is far from guaranteed that the strategy of pushing for a new electoral round will bring the result Erdogan eagerly expects.

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Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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