The AK Party’s sense of urgency

The AK Party’s sense of urgency

Over 80 local municipalities across Turkey (including the two biggest – Istanbul and Ankara) are currently without their locally elected officials. And the list looks set to grow further. Is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s maneuver within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) a serious cleaning-up operation? Or is it part of preparations for a snap election?

Erdoğan on Oct. 24 dismissed talk about early elections. But a short visit to Ankara or smaller Anatolian towns gives you another picture.

Elif Dördüncü Aydemir, a leading political consultant and founder of Quatro Strategies, has been visiting Anatolian heartland towns like Kırşehir, Niğde and Nevşehir. Speaking on private broadcaster CNN Turk last week, Aydemir told me that elections are the talk of the town in many places.

“Once you start talking about removing the mayor of a town from office, then the entire town turns into a gossip mill. People start dishing the dirt on each other and all of a sudden you see corruption allegations pouring in from even the most pro-AKP people,” she said.

Selami Öztük, the former mayor of Kadıköy, a stronghold of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said something even more striking.

“If your removal has been announced from the very top, even garbage truck drivers stop saying ‘good morning’ to you. Small business owners start to dismiss your warnings about hygiene. Street vendors ignore you … You become completely paralyzed,” Öztürk said.

President Erdoğan finally got what he wanted and the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul resigned. He will now put his trusted handymen in all AK Party positions that he removed, regardless of arguments that this is totally against the rule of law and claims that Erdoğan is rushing against time. Resignations that would normally take place over a couple of weeks took only hours to deliver. Something happened that started the ball rolling faster.

That something is the new center-right party that has long been in the planning. Veteran politician Meral Akşener and her friends have laid the foundations of a ground movement that has excited names as diverse as Taylan Yıldız, a young professional from Google, former Sledgehammer trial victim and respected retired soldier Ali Türkşen, and even MPs from other parties. MP Aytun Çıray resigned from the CHP on Oct. 23, announcing his intention to join Akşener’s new party.

Çıray may be the tip of the iceberg, and there may even be several AK Party MPs waiting on the sidelines to jump ship. They understand that with the presidential system and one-man rule becoming solidified, their positions in parliament will be futile.

According to a report in daily Hürriyet, Erdoğan is planning to pull the general and presidential elections forward to the summer or late autumn of 2018, over a year earlier than scheduled and even before local elections scheduled for March 2019. Just a month ago, pollsters were predicting that Erdoğan would use the local elections as a barometer ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections, but now things seem to be getting more critical for him. He realizes that he has to secure his own seat before the local elections.

İsmet Özçelik, a veteran Ankara columnist, recently recalled the days of former President Turgut Özal and how he would collect dossiers of wrongdoings about his own ministers and leak them to the media whenever he wanted to replace them. This supposed “cleansing” process did not end well for Özal’s party, the ANAP, in the 1990s. Today, a similar process will most likely end with a deeply sour note for the AK Party.

Opinion, Ahu Özyurt,