A painful process awaits Erdoğan in renewing his AKP
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will hold its annual camp this weekend in Afyonkarahisar, a Central Anatolian town, during which it will review policies on key domestic and foreign issues, as well as the performance of the party’s central and local organizations.
President and AKP Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will head the two-day convention for the first time since returning as party leader following constitutional amendments approved in April.
This weekend’s camp will present a very important opportunity for Erdoğan in his efforts to regenerate the AKP and renew its cadres with more dynamic, young and devoted members in order to avoid what he has been calling “metal fatigue,” particularly on the eve of triple elections in 2019.
Immediately after his return to the AKP as chairman, Erdoğan launched a three-phase plan for the renewal of the party, out of concern that constitutional changes were only narrowly passed and the fact that there was an unprecedented drop in votes in almost all big constituencies, including Turkey’s five biggest cities.
Erdoğan first re-shuffled the government to promote ministers who are considered to be more loyal to him. He then led a process for a substantial change in the provincial organizations of the AKP in order to replace apparently tired local AKP heads.
The third phase seems to be even more painful, as it concerns prominent mayors who has been running major cities like Istanbul and Ankara for many years. Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş and Düzce Mayor Mehmet Keleş were both forced to resign from their posts, amid speculation that the mayors of Ankara, Bursa, Balıkesir and Eskişehir are next in line.
On Oct. 3, AKP Spokesman Mahir Ünal denied reports that the party headquarters had demanded the resignation of long-term Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, but minutes after him Erdoğan hinted that this could indeed soon take place. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Gökçek, who has been ruling the city since 1994, has resisted the demands, although many in Ankara believe that he does not have many options.
In fact, Erdoğan was reportedly quite reluctant to renominate Gökçek for yet another term in the 2014 local election, but the Ankara mayor’s strong support to the government during the Gezi protests in mid-2013 allowed him to expand his mandate for another five years.
However, unlike Topbaş and other mayors, Gökçek’s departure could be problematic for the AKP. As a long-term politician who is highly capable of sailing in rough waters, Gökçek would surely try to use all his cards to keep his position - at least until the end of his mandate.
Naturally, all these in-house developments in the AKP have political reflections. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu referred to the resignation of Topbaş in his parliamentary address on Oct. 3, calling on the former Istanbul mayor to explain exactly why he had quit his job to the voters.
Kılıçdaroğlu has two main points: First, he stressed that Topbaş and other mayors in the pipeline have been forced to do so, obviously referring to Erdoğan’s pressure. Second, he argued that these resignations could either be because these local leaders have been involved in corruption or had links with the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ).
To strengthen his argument, Kılıçdaroğlu recalled the forced resignation of four ministers from previous AKP governments on the grounds that they were bribed by Iranian-Turkish businessmen Reza Zarrab. At a parliament vote in early 2015, all four ministers were blocked from being tried at the Supreme Court on corruption charges, Kılıçdaroğlu also recalled.
The CHP leader therefore also accused Erdoğan once again of hindering potential legal action against allegedly corrupt AKP officials and mayors, and of breaking the law by concealing a felony.
A potential departure or resignation of Ankara Mayor Gökçek would certainly spark fresh discussion of all these issues, mainly those related to corruption allegations. Many AKP members would likely also join this campaign, along with opposition figures.
In any case, it seems that a painful and difficult process is certainly awaiting President Erdoğan.