MUSTAFA AKYOL > Will the AKP lose votes?

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Turkey is in the midst of a very interesting, peculiar political tension these days, the consequences of which are hotly debated. On the one hand, there is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and its supporters. On the other hand, there is not a political party, but a social group: The Gülen Movement, or the followers of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, which has a large presence not only in civil society but also the bureaucracy. 

It is also no secret that the Gülen Movement supported the AKP rigorously until a few years ago, both with votes and activism. But once the common enemy of both sides, the military-backed old establishment, had been defeated, differences between both sides appeared and soon turned into a political conflict. (As my version of Murphy’s Law states: If there emerges even a little a disagreement among Turks, it will certainly turn into a big fight soon.)

The details of this AKP-Gülen Movement tension is hotly discussed in the Turkish media every day, as conspiracy theories raise the bar to unimaginable heights. (Some AKP supporters argue that the Gülen Movement serves Israel and “Zionism,” whereas people on the other side whisper about “Iranian agents” within the AKP.) A more factual matter, however, is whether this split will have a considerable effect in the upcoming elections — first the local elections of next March, then the presidential elections of next June.

One big question here is how many votes the Gülen Movement has. There are simply no clear statistics here, as the membership to the movement can be very loose and no number is ever disclosed. But assuming that every pro-Gülen household probably buys daily Zaman, which sells more than a million copies every day, estimates can be made. A perhaps even more definitive number is the sum of the subscribers to Sızıntı, a monthly religious magazine that is the theological flagship of the movement, which is more than 600,000.)

Based on such figures, observers estimate that pro-Gülen votes constitute some 2 to 5 percent of the electorate. There has been a view that the more loosely affiliated folks within this bulk could still vote for the AKP when they go to the ballots, but the growing tension makes this less and less likely. The resignation of Hakan Şükür, a former football star who joined the AKP in 2011 as a deputy, is a sign. Şükür, a proud follower of Mr. Gülen, has been a symbol of the cooperation between the movement and the party, but he resigned from the latter on Monday with a long and very critical press release.

In other words, it looks safe to assume that the AKP-Gülen Movement split may cost the AKP some 2-5 percent of the votes in the upcoming election season. For a party whose votes fluctuate around 50 percent, this might not sound disastrous. However, both of the two upcoming elections are sensitive enough. In the local elections, municipal candidates will compete, and even a small segment of votes can be a game changer in major cities such as Istanbul or Ankara. In the presidential elections, Erdoğan will compete as an individual, and he will need 50 percent of the votes to be elected, in two subsequent rounds. A small segment, again, can be a game changer.

In other words, politics is becoming more heated, but also more interesting. Personally speaking, I must say that I am less interested in who will win, but whether Turkish democracy will win. And I am optimistic on the latter, at least in the long run.


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Notice on comments

Ameer Raschid

12/24/2013 10:31:30 AM

@Laz Kemal yes, the Qur'an says to cover the bosom as it was exposed either partly or ıts shade but the hair arms and legs were already covered so no need to mention but still a modestly requirement for pious believers but ignored by modern society female believers intent on imitating non-Muslim secular values of individual freedom. We see the obsessive emphasıs on bosom size, the beautiful coiffure, gorgeous legs, all designed to attract and make women feel inferior if they don't match!

Logan Thomson

12/19/2013 10:51:56 AM

I'm still personally amazed Mr. Akyol continues to write about the Cemaat without declaring if he has any affiliations with its known entities? Just strikes me as due diligence for journalist to disclose any work-related, professional, personal, etc affiliations. Similar to commenting on a company's stock without disclosing if you own part of the company, work for it, etc. Just strikes me as very strange to see this repeatedly not done when he writes about the Movement. Something to consider.

Laz Kemal

12/19/2013 6:53:02 AM

1-Saw you last weekend on Fareed’s show on US CNN again- you defending Kuran yet claiming some of that Islamist behavior “reflect just medieval, Middle Eastern culture.” I realized that you learned even more from my regular comment, which I’ve stated for decades, that “only the Islamists mentalities are still attached to the archaic, tribal, regional traditions and medieval demands” Next stop supporting the hijab nonsense and learn your Kuran which states only that women cover their bosom

Laz Kemal

12/19/2013 6:49:48 AM

2-At least this time you did not fib on Fareed’s show like you did in June by claiming that “Turkish military killed prime ministers (plural).” Yet once again you proved how difficult it is for you to accept the truth and reality. In the discussion about Turkey being a secular country your nonsense explanation was “one thing that transformed minds is the economy.” NO! that’s only secondary at best.

Laz Kemal

12/19/2013 6:47:14 AM

3-What transformed primitive minds and made Turkey so different than other Islamist countries is Ataturk. Sad to see it’s hard for your mentality to accept that …maybe you’re having flashbacks to your childhood years of getting slapped by family elderly at age 9 if you did not pray (your own words) or maybe if you accepted the amazingly successful reforms of secularist Ataturk (my thought). I’ll give you credit for excellent English but hard to take you seriously when you live in such a denial

Engin Atik

12/19/2013 2:44:24 AM

@Can Lamberoglu, What I meant to say that AKP voters for the most part believe that muslims are righteous people and they are supposed to do the right thing. When two islamist groups accuse each other of wrongdoing this creates a paradox in AKP voters mind.

american american

12/19/2013 12:18:26 AM

yeah turk oz, because ankara is allowing them to. i guess turkey knows something israel doesn't....

turk oz

12/18/2013 10:55:28 PM

Mustafa Akyol you loose again. When you wrote your article you did not see more arrests coming? I also feel you are with F.Gulen. This is just a beginning,papers in the secret book becoming unraveled, page by page. It is coming to end of the AKP as far as I see. Israel today made a comment about the their flights to Turkey will resume in 2014. They know something you do not know. RTE must be worrying what will be happening to his son? All the ships he was able to attain in such a short time.

Can Lamberoglu

12/18/2013 10:13:21 PM

Dear Mustafa. I think that you are a nice guy, and if we would know each other personally, we could probably be friends, But your current job as a columnist does not seem to fit your character. If you intend to pursue this career, then you must be able to show your teeth and say what you think, rather than trying to not upset anyone. None of your articles during the last several years have shown us what you want to happen. Speak up for your beliefs if you plan to gain influence. I hope you will.

Can Lamberoglu

12/18/2013 8:07:00 PM

@ Engin: I have been everywhere around the world and met most cultures and religions. Not a muslim myself, I have lived in their midst for nearly 2 decades. I am a bit confused about your comment: "either the accusers or the accused are lying which would disqualify one side as not true muslims"? Does lying or does not lying qualify someone to be a muslim, in your opinion?
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