Schism in the AKP?
Some very important people, in an unaccustomed manner for those in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) flank, have started expressing their discomfort either by making statements, through electronic messages on social media or just by reappearing in public after months of seclusion. While the main opposition social democrats were busy with the very important national problem of trying to figure out which deputy removed a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founder of both modern Turkey and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – amid the routine of seeing scores of beloved sons in body bags, the media focused on a possible schism in the AKP.
Well, if the AKP has no serious contender and if it has become a political postulation that the threat of elected autocracy can only be brought to a halt by an implosion, serious dissent or a schism led by a serious, “reliable alternative leader,” can there be anything abnormal with the public getting excited with such news? Still, while falling in love excites, energizes and instills fresh expectations in all mortals, no one should forget that Valentine’s Day is a marketing invention of the capitalist economy. In the absence of some serious effort, love cannot be rehashed and the memories of past glories cannot help every cause.
Abdullah Gül’s emergence from his secluded Istanbul residence, lunch with his successor in the presidency, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and coming together with some disgruntled former heavy guns of the AKP were of course important developments. However, it might be argued that he was in Ankara to check on the health of his parents, perform some other social obligations and meet with his old friend Erdoğan, as well as with Bülent Arınç, Hüseyin Çelik, Sadullah Ergin and Nihat Ergün. Who were these people? All very important personalities who occupied very important posts in the governance of Turkey over the past 13 years.
Naturally, if former Deputy Premier Arınç as well as former Education Minister Çelik publicly shared their discomfort with how the country is being governed, political tutelage over the judiciary or how the Kurdish opening was conducted before faltering, this was big news. If Erdoğan was publicly criticized or even someone like Arınç implied that the president perhaps did not honestly tell the truth about the notorious Dolmabahçe statement, can anyone say the revelations were not important? Or if Arınç and Çelik were given support by both Ergin and Ergün, who also occupied very important ministerial positions in past AKP governments, could it be wrong if some political pundits start commenting that there is a schism in the AKP?
Well, though indications point at a probable schism, if anyone made such a comment, that would only show he did not know either Gül, Arınç, Erdoğan or how things work in the AKP. Criticism of Erdoğan and public statements from former top AKP people that might enrage him might not be such typical developments. Still, this was not the first time Arınç has made some explosive remarks before returning to obey the leader later.
There has always been speculation that Gül, with his Kayseri group in the AKP and with the support of Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) chief Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu would set up a “New Democracy Party” or the “Nation Party.” Such speculation was floating around even when Gül was in the presidential office. He just did not take the risk as in politics nothing is guaranteed, and the new party might go down the drain like the party of Abdüllatif Şener, the first major deserter from the AKP in 2007.
Gül, Arınç and others know well that Erdoğan is the glue of the AKP and any split from the AKP has no chance of success irrespective of how many former heavy guns might prefer to be in its ranks or even in its leadership.
Developments, however, underline an escalation of discord between the president and some power centers within the AKP – including the prime minister. As Gül and other former heavy guns can take a publicly oppositional position to the “supreme president” or “presidential governance” aspirations of Erdoğan, it might not be wrong to expect an operation by the president in and around the AKP. Already in Arınç’s hometown, many people have been rounded up in a so-called operation into the “parallel state” or the Gülen movement. Some of the people taken in were very close to Arınç. Can Erdoğan “punish” Gül, Çelik, Ergin and Ergün as well dissuade and pacify probable dissent in the AKP in a possible constitutional amendment move? Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is also believed to be against the super president aspirations of Erdoğan.
Can it be said that all these indicate a coming dissident move in the AKP? Could the AKP split and father a new party?
Gül will not take such a risk but probably with an early election this fall Erdoğan might want to cleanse the AKP of the remaining Gülenists as well as residues of the founding period – like Gül, Arınç and others – and complete the transformation of the AKP into a majoritarian party worshipping him.