It has been almost a decade since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey. And regardless of whether you like it or not, the party has proved to be a phenomenal success. It has not only transformed Turkey in significant ways, but has also done something that no one else has ever done: won three elections in a row, with a steady increase in votes.
The reasons for this success are complex, and most of them have to do with the good shape of the economy and improved living standards. But another factor is the popularity of the party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although there are also people who passionately hate him, those who love him seem to make up a big chunk of Turkish society. His charisma not only keeps the AKP’s votes high, but also keeps the party, which is indeed a large coalition of various political trends, united.
Yet Erdoğan will not be the leader of the AKP forever. He, in fact, just declared that he would run for the leadership of the party this September for the last time. So, what will happen to the AKP after Erdoğan?
First off, Erdoğan will probably not go anywhere too far. His apparent plan is to run in the presidential elections of 2014, which seems to be piece of cake: All polls show that he is the most likely candidate to be popularly elected to the presidency for the first time in Turkish history. (So far, presidents have been elected by Parliament, but a 2007 constitutional amendment supported by the AKP and approved in a referendum changed that tradition and made the presidency a popularly elected post.)
In less then a year after those presidential elections, however, there will be the general elections of 2015, and the AKP will have to go Erdoğan-less. The identity of who will lead the party in this post-Erdoğan period has now become the million-dollar question in Ankara.
There are two popular scenarios here. One is that Abdullah Gül, the current president, will “return” to the AKP after his presidency ends, lead the party and become the prime minister. (That would basically amount to a switch between Gül and Erdoğan.) The other scenario is that another popular figure in the AKP, such as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, will become prime minister. Some have speculated that Erdoğan would perhaps prefer rather a weak figure to take his place to make sure that he continues to call the shots.
However, a third scenario emerged this week, as Erdoğan took an unexpected step: He met Numan Kurtulmuş, the leader of the new and small HAS (People’s Voice) Party, and invited him to join the AKP ranks through a merger of their two parties. Kurtulmuş is still considering the offer, but if he agrees as expected, he is likely to be a candidate for the leadership of the post-Erdoğan AKP.
For Kurtulmuş, despite the extremely modest 1 percent of the vote his party received in the 2011 elections, is a popular and respected figure not just among conservatives, but even other circles, as a modest, polite, scholarly and principled politician. (“We found Kurtulmus in person both approachable and reflective,” said the American
ambassador to Ankara
in 2011, in what later became WikiLeaks. He also described him as “a gentler and kinder face” in his movement.)
I, too, am fond of Kurtulmuş, and would like to see him as a prominent figure in the AKP. I also hope that such “new blood” might give us some sort of an “AKP version 2.0,” for the current version is rapidly going out of date and is unable to present the reformism that Turkey needs.