Can Turkey’s AKP patch over its bleeding gaps?
As Erdogan pushes the government to the edge, voices against him are getting louder
Hardly does a single day pass without Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking before huge crowds, lobbying on government’s behalf to gather sufficient majority in the parliament that will grant him extra powers. That, however, could be in violation of Turkish constitution, which requires a president to stand neutral and oversee daily politics.
“There is a government in this country,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc blasted at Erdogan in recent weeks. “No one has a right to cast a shadow over it.”
Arinc’s protest against Erdogan was the first, most visible rebellion against a president who has recognized no limits in restricting the government’s discretion of power in ruling the country. Arinc was not speaking on his behalf. He acknowledged that the remarks reflected the government’s view.
Although Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu doesn’t say it out loud, it’s obvious that he doesn’t see eye to eye in every policy item with Erdogan. The president has already shaped the electoral campaign around his presidential ambitions, which means Davutoglu will be swept aside if his party wins necessary number of seats to change the constitution.
The AKP’s boiling pot
There is a prevailing sense of perception reigned in among aspiring politicians that Erdogan will have the final say in forming the party lists for the elections. This has given a major impetus for politicians to attack anyone – from inside or outside – who seem to be criticizing the president. Arinc’s remarks sent chills across the AKP corridors, but Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek picked up the flag and openly declared war against Arinc.
“We don’t want you,” he blared. “You must resign.”
As Erdogan pushes the government to the edge, voices against him are getting louderMahir Zeynalov
Hours later, Arinc staged one of the most scathing salvos against his party’s mayor in capital Ankara, launching a new phase in already brewing internal reckoning that captivated the global audience.
From the remarks of Arinc, who said he rallied against the nomination of Gokcek in 2009 and 2014 local elections, the struggle was the one long in the making and blew into open after the mayor’s resignation call. “This is an impertinent call,” Arinc responded as a prelude to one of the most severe attacks on a fellow party member in recent times. He gave a full vent to what had been a mounting rage for years. This week’s infighting was an unprecedented one for a party that has long been a byword for stability and cohesion.
The AKP pot is boiling and Erdogan, who had always been the one sitting on the lid, can no longer manage the party as he is used to before. There is no doubt that Erdogan is still calling the shots about how the government is run and how his former party is preparing in the run up to parliamentary elections in June. But it becomes increasingly difficult for the president to prevent the AKP from slipping out of his hands at a time when Davutoglu is facing a daunting task in reasserting his relevance.
Ruling party divided
Ankara is awash with speculation that the ruling party is divided between pro-Erdogan folks and senior politicians, including former President Abdullah Gul, Arinc and Davutoglu. Arinc, along with more than 70 lawmakers, who were among those founded the party, are now squeezed aside as they served their third term – self-imposed rule to prevent decrepit politicians from clinging on to power. The party’s senior politicians are unhappy over the fact that new yet more corrupt politicians are transforming the party in a way that they can no more recognize.
The corruption allegations that targeted Erdogan and his inner circle has kept the government officials and party members on their toes for more than a year and a half. The corruption investigation presented damning evidence to implicate a number of senior level government officials, but the authorities have done a superb job in burying the investigation. Since the probe was launched, all prosecutors supervising the investigation were removed, all charges were dropped, all suspects were released, policemen who carried out the operation were arrested and newspaper editors who reported on corruption were imprisoned.
The corruption ghost may seem to be gone by now. But Arinc promised to announce “one hundred” wrongdoing of the Ankara mayor on June 8, one day after the elections. Arinc, who is the third most senior figure in the AKP after Erdogan and Gul, may unleash a monster that will be difficult to tame. The current situation is a perfect case in point for the game theory: As long as suspects cooperate, they get the best deal. It will be hard to stop the fire once the blame-game starts.
As the two politicians exchanged political invectives, Davutoglu showed signs of panic ahead of key parliamentary elections and accelerated efforts to smooth over the discord. The prime minister put the blame on both sides for consuming the party’s credibility as it prepares to garner necessary number of seats to extend the party’s tenure. Davutoglu met with both politicians, aiming at heading off a harmful confrontation.
The AKP offered Turkish people a vivid example of political and economic stability, the opposite of what they experienced in the 1990s, when the country deeply mired into political chaos and financial turmoil. A similar political fight between a prime minister and a president in 2001 kicked off a devastating economic crisis overnight and gave rise to the AKP.
The latest internal reckoning is only a visible part of a system that tremendously benefits from patron-client relationship. It is a delicate balance of powers, the one that will tumble down if similar squabbles spin out of control. There is little evidence to suggest that the crack may widen to significantly damage the party in the near future. The AKP is the most solid political organization in Turkey, with vast network of benefits and opportunities for loyalists. But as Erdogan pushes the government to the edge, voices against him are getting louder.
Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov