If Erdoğan wins, the country loses again

If Erdoğan wins, the country loses again

Although the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) congress on Sept. 12 was billed as a “regular congress,” there was nothing “regular” about it. The shadow of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hovered heavily over Ankara’s Arena Sports Complex, where 1,445 delegates had gathered to elect the party’s new leader and members of its Central Decision Making and Executive Board (MKYK).

As expected, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the only candidate, was elected again to lead the party, but this had all the hallmarks of a “Pyrrhic victory.” It proved once again who is “boss” in the AKP, and just how weak and inconsequential Davutoğlu’s position is.  

The original list containing his choice of members for the MKYK, the party’s main governing organ, was literally thrown out by Erdoğan, who went on to impose his own cronies, including his son-in-law, on the congress. 

Erdoğan’s displeasure with the course Davutoğlu was taking was first revealed when he encouraged former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, one of his closest associates, to sound the waters before the congress to run against Davutoğlu. 

The “message from above” was clear and Davutoğlu showed no resistance to Erdoğan, or sense of loyalty to the names he had originally chosen for the 50-member MKYK. No one who has displeased Erdoğan in the past, or who is associated with former President Abdullah Gül - who is an AKP founding member known for his moderate views that contrast with Erdoğan’s abrasive ways - will be in the new MKYK. 

This clearly highlights Davutoğlu’s position as Erdoğan’s chosen minion, who may have tried to stray momentarily from his master, but was duly reprimanded and brought back into line. 

So one wonders why he had selected to put names that Erdoğan would disapprove of in the original list in the first place, since it was clear that he was going to let Erdoğan vet them, regardless of the negative image this presents for Turkey’s parliamentary democracy.

One could go the whole way and say that this congress effectively finished off Davutoğlu as a key figure in Turkish politics. He has confirmed what many knew anyway, namely that he is only there to serve Erdoğan. It is hard to see what the future holds for him as an independent politician.

This congress also highlighted once again that Erdoğan has no qualms about violating the political neutrality demanded of him as president by the constitution. It has shown that he is not the president of the country, but of that segment of the population that elected him president in August 2014 and which votes for the AKP.

This will remain problematic for Turkey even if the AKP happens to regain its parliamentary majority in November. Should it gain this majority by a slim margin, which is the only likely option judging by surveys, Erdoğan’s strong hold on the party will only aggravate Turkey’s political crisis. 

This, however, appears of no concern to Erdoğan. It is clear to many now that he is fighting for his own political survival by trying to ward off all negative political and legal consequences for himself should the AKP fail to regain its parliamentary majority in November. 

This means he intends to get fully engaged in party politics, as he did prior to the June 7 elections, in order to try and ensure a strong turnout for the AKP. He has in fact already started canvassing for the AKP, a fact that was made starkly clear in his recent comment when he openly suggested that the current political turmoil, and violence involving the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), would not have come about if the electorate had sent 400 deputies (meaning “AKP deputies,” of course) to parliament in the June elections.

That will not happen in November either. But what is clear at this stage is that if Erdoğan has his way, even if this happens by the slimmest majority for the AKP in November, it is the country that will lose again.