President Tayyip Erdoğan’s vow on May 19 to give more importance to the youth in the party’s administrative positions during the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) extraordinary congress on May 21 is not just a cliché politicians use in public addresses. It is also more than just giving some positions to young politicians in the ranks of the ruling party. Erdoğan really wants to work with younger people as part of a strategy.
The strategy will also help bring fresh blood to an aging class of politicians in a young country, but there is another and perhaps more important target: Erdoğan wants to work with a new generation who opened their eyes in politics with him; a new generation of young men and women who do not have any political past before Erdoğan.
It is likely that many of the big names in the old guard of the AK Parti who started the march with Erdoğan in 2001 will not succeed in holding onto key positions in the new executive organs to be determined by the May 21 congress. There will of course be certain names that people are familiar with. But those names will be handpicked from among those who got into politics together with Erdoğan and have no other past, as well as those whose loyalty to Erdoğan has been proven. It can also be said that loyalty to party and ideology will play a lesser role than loyalty to Erdoğan, since the AK Parti will become almost identical to Erdoğan with the May 21 congress, as Erdoğan is also the president of the country.
In a way, Erdoğan will start trying to reshape Turkey from his party after taking it over again after the April 16 referendum, in which all the executive power was given to the presidency, allowing him to lead his party in parliament and appoint a majority of the judges of the Constitutional Court.
Similar steps are likely to be taken among the presidential advisers, the AK Parti group in parliament and partly the cabinet.
According to the constitution, more structural changes will have to wait for the phasing out of the prime ministry and alterations to the Election Law, among other harmonization laws, by 2019. But Erdoğan said on Friday that he would start the process with the laws that are currently legally possible, and that includes changes in the party.
In retrospect, one can see that there were certain milestones that brought Erdoğan to his current level of power. The 2007 referendum to elect the president through a public vote; the end to the alliance with the network of U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen following the graft probes of December 2013; the blocking of former President Abdullah Gül from being a candidate again by advancing former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
in 2014; his election as president; the sidelining of Davutoğlu through the promotion of Binali Yıldırım as prime minister in 2016, as well as his utilization of his increased popularity after the foiled military coup of July 15, 2016, to go to the referendum to consolidate all executive powers in 2017 all constitute these milestones.
After the harmonization laws are completed, Erdoğan is likely to try to shape the new AK Parti group in parliament in 2019 in accordance with the same principles: a limited number of names from today’s party with proven loyalty, with the majority to be figures who opened their eyes in politics with Erdoğan and who know only him as their political leader.