What lies ahead for Turkey’s AKP in 2014?

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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A new year is ahead and so is a new dawn. 2014 will be a turning point for the people of Turkey not only because we are going to go through a new set of elections after a decade of conservative democratic rule of the AK Party, but because Turkish society progressed immensely over the past 12 years.

The Turkish political scene has been dominated by conservative parties since 1950. Since 1946, the main opposition left-wing CHP could not get an electoral victory without a right-wing coalition. The Turkish electoral system and political scene is much different than England or the US. While the British and the American political scene is dominated by the two main parties, Turkey is the home to 77 (yes that’s right, seventy-seven) political parties.

The AKP has managed to win three successive general elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011, increasing its proportion of the vote on each occasion. The AKP’s victory was decisive in the latest election of June 2011, with the party claiming 50 percent of the vote, compared to its share of 34 percent in November 2002 and 47 percent in July 2007. This was a clearly exceptional performance by any standard, and clearly contradicts any notion of public fatigue of government, which typically leads to a decline in the electoral performance of political parties after many years in office. What makes the AKP experience unique that center-right parties are hidden in the Turkish context. [1]

If you take all 75 million plus citizens of Turkey, we can safely say the AK Party is a melting pot of past and present social and ideological movements in Turkey. Dominated by a traditional liberal-democratic-conservative mindset, Turkish society likes to preserve and practice the moral values of religion while remaining closely attached to the now-Western values of tolerance, freedom, human rights, education and the rule of law. When combined with the economic success the AK Party has brought to Turkey, you end up with a society who sports European clothing style with famous brands but also fasts in Ramadan and prays in the determined hours.

The AK Party’s platforms, as well as numerous statements by its leaders, strongly emphasize such universal values as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, limited government, pluralism tolerance and respect for diversity and economic prosperity. The party acknowledges and respects all the birthrights of people, such as having different beliefs, ideas, races, languages, the right of expression, the right of association, and the right to live. As a general understanding of the Turkish public, the party also considers that diversity is not a source of contention, but a part of our cultural richness that reinforces our solidarity.

Also in practice, despite being a Sunni-led conservative party, the AK Party has been the first governing body in Turkey which repaired synagogues and churches and built djemevis, Alawite places of worship. There are 931 djemevis in Turkey, 837 of which were built in the AK Party government era over the last 11 years. In this sense, the party did not create a tradition of its own, but projected an already existing tolerant approach of the general public, coming from the Ottoman times. In Anatolia of the Ottoman Empire, in an era when tolerance was a luxury, Shia and Sunni populations in Ottoman lands lived together harmoniously. In the Sunni empire, Shia generals frequently led the army and became counsels to the Sultan.

Everywhere in the world, what affects voters’ behavior the most is undoubtedly the economy. Many ultra-secularists voted for the AK Party in the last elections because of the economic success the party brought to the country. Unlike its oil and gas rich neighbors, Turkey has not been able to use the short cut of one commodity. The AK Party established a strong free-market economy with all its institutions and rules, and recognizes the role of the state in the economy only in a regulatory and supervisory capacity. In an attempt to decrease the government’s role and influence in economy, privatization on a massive scale has been a notable characteristic of the AKP era. When the AK Party came to power, Turkey was the 26th largest economy in the world with an annual GDP of $230 billion. Furthermore, it has seen inflation-free growth, with inflation having been reduced to single digit levels for the first time over a period of nearly three decades.

Today, our annual GDP stands at $800 billion and Turkey has now become the 16th largest economy in the world. GDP has more than tripled, exceeding $10,000 in 2010 from $3,500 in 2002. Turkey’s export rate of $36 billion has been quadrupled and exceeded $115 billion for the year 2010. The party also decreased corporate taxes from 33% to 20%. Turkey enjoys one of the lowest debts amongst the OECD countries and its public debt that had been around 80% in 2002, dropped to 44% by the end of 2011, and went lower than 40% by the end of 2012. In terms of industries, Turkey’s large textile industry cannot perhaps produce a T-shirt as cheap as Bangladesh, but it can meet the delivery times and quality standards for a German department store. [2]

With regard to how Islamic, democratic and secular the AKP party is, the AKP has supported secularism far more clearly than former right wing parties. There is a very serious difference between being a party which attaches importance to religion and to pious people and which accepts the social functions of religious values, versus being a party which aims to changing society by force with the aid of state apparatus and transforming religion into an ideology. [3]

Thus, it is stated that while religion is one of the most important institutions of humanity, secularism is a sine qua non condition for democracy, and the guarantee for the freedom of religion and conscience. ‘Secularism allows people of all religions and beliefs to practice their religion in peace, to express their religious convictions and to live accordingly, but also allows people with no religious beliefs to organize their lives in their own direction. Therefore, secularism is a principle of freedom and social peace.’

In the moderate Muslim Turkish society the verses from the Surat Al-Kafirun are frequently repeated to remind those with fundamentalist tendencies that it is not up to us to change people’s minds: ‘Say: Oh, you who disbelieve! I do not worship that which you worship, nor do you worship That Which I worship… To you your religion and to me mine.’

To assess the AKP’s attitude toward secularism, we must distinguish between the two conceptions of secularism prevalent in Turkey. One may be called ‘assertive secularism’ whose ultimate aim is to privatize and individualize religion and to ban or limit its visibility in the public space.

The other, ‘passive secularism’ which is prevalent in most Western democracies, ‘...implies state neutrality towards various religions and allows the public visibility of religion.' Passive secularism opposes any established doctrine that defines the “good” for its citizens, either religious or nonreligious, whereas assertive secularism regards secularism itself as an established doctrine to be promoted.

Secularism is not separation of religion and state, but ‘separation of religion and worldly affairs.

The AK Party’s platforms, as well as numerous statements by its leaders, strongly emphasize such universal values as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, limited government, pluralism tolerance and respect for diversity and economic prosperity.

Ceylan Ozbudak

It means separation of social life, education, family, economics, law, manners, dress codes from religion.’ The AKP’s ideology is in conformity with passive secularism, but not with the fundamentalist worldview, which aims at creating a more Islamic society by using the coercive power of the state. [4]

The PKK issue

Maybe the most important move from the AK Party this year will be remembered as the peace process in the PKK and the Kurdish issue. Still to this day, apart from occasional clashes, we are seeing a cease-fire on the PKK front. However, like I wrote before, the so-called Kurdish issue is not about Kurdish nationalism and it is not a political issue. Like Harun Yahya emphasized, it is merely an ideological problem of the Marxist-Leninist PKK terror organization trying to establish a neo-Soviet Russia. Abdullah Ocalan declared during the first anniversary congress of the PKK on November 27, 1978 in Diyarbakır, that the goal of the PKK was ‘building a Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan that would include parts of Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia.’

It is not possible for a terrorist organization, which managed to reach some of its goals through terrorism, to give up on terror or war. Therefore, without counter-Marxist education of the public, we will never be able to guarantee the cease-fire will hold. The Marxist mindset of this terror organization was being fed by an authoritarian state discourse and the perception of a fascistic deep state is the result of an ill-conceived 150-year old policy. It had been forged by a deep government mafia, the Ergenekon. The locals had been subjected to torture, oppression and terrorism during the September 12 Era and throughout the 1990s, which only helped those that used the PKK as a contractor.

Enter the Ergenekon case

This brings us to the most important issue the AK Party tackled during their rule, the Ergenekon Terror organization. The Ergenekon case, which concluded on August 5th of this year, started in 2007 with the discovery of a stash of grenades and bomb-making materials at the residence of two retired police officers in Istanbul. After a wide-ranging investigation, which led to the conviction of 86 people in 2008, several high-ranking officers gave evidence to the discovery of four separate coup plots, and to the discovery of plans for the assassination of very prominent Turkish p

olitical and intellectual figures. It is a “deep state” network, which had been ingrained in national life Turkish government, media, universities, hospitals, police force and civil society. By almost completely uprooting this deep state organization, the AK Party got the support of many more voters in the last few years.

Turkish politics has always been responsive to social movements in society rather than being an engine to direct these movements. A powerful anti-Marxist, anti-materialist, and anti-fundamentalist civil education drove society further from left and closer to center right, resulting in the opposition to be weak and highly fragmented and accounting for the electoral success of the center right. Therefore, the New Year expectation of the Turkish parliamentary elections will most likely again be on the center right, no matter how many protests or court cases we may face in the coming weeks.

[1] The Triumph of Conservative Globalism: The Political Economy of the AKP Era, Ziya Öniş

[2] Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know, Andrew Finkel

[3] Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey (Religion, Culture, and Public Life), Ahmet Kuru, Alfred Stepan

[4] Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Politics)

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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