The secret of the Felicity Party
It did not come as a surprise, but even Felicity (Saadet) Party head Temel Karamollaoğlu did not expect this kind of attention. Once a fringe party that carried the Islamist torch of the late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the Felicity Party now seems to be at the center of all political activity in Turkey.
Since the presidential referendum, parts of the opposition have been looking to the Felicity Party to set the agenda. Karamollaoğlu, a veteran politician who was among those jailed after the 1980 military coup, has became a voice of reason for leftists and conservatives alike. One big reason for this is the lack of progress on the İYİ (Good) Party front. İYİ Party leader Meral Aksener is still a powerful politician who gets a lot of grassroots support while on the road in heartland Anatolia. But her party’s message is still unclear. As a party that should be aiming to address the needs of young people, the İYİ Party still lacks an agenda that can motivate younger voters.
Another big reason why attention has turned to the Felicity Party is the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) internal dilemma in setting an agenda for itself and moving forward with it. Sadly, Turkey’s main opposition party seems to be deciding on a daily basis what to do, which issue to push, and how to answer to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and to the president. One insider once told me that in the hallways of the CHP, the party’s deputies and high ranking officials look at the newspapers every morning to see if their names appear in Hürriyet. As a result of this shortsightedness, the CHP lacks consistency, message coherence and patience.
Behind all this dust and fog, the Felicity Party appears to many as the true “third-way.” In previous elections, the party hardly made it to the 5 percent level, but according to respected pollsters it actually has a “mortgaged 10 percent” inside the AK Party that it can quickly claim. Karamollaoğlu, as chairman and leader of the party, gives the impression that he does not need to bend or break to make his voice heard. He has very little to lose if he speaks about the mistakes of the AK Party, and he knows very well that both the AK Party’s base and its upper echelons listen whenever he says something.
Bekir Ağırdır from the KONDA research company, in an interview he gave to the news website T24, touched on the vacuum that the Felicity Party could fill. “There is a 40 percent bloc in Turkey that sincerely feels the current cadre of politicians cannot solve the country’s problems of Turkey. This is a mass that votes according to economic worries and less according to political attachment to a party. These people are in the ‘grey area’ and feel the situation will get worse.”
According to policy analysts, the Felicity Party and Karamollaoğlu seem to be touching the worries of this specific voter group. Karamollaoğlu’s Twitter account gets hundreds of responses from young people who walked on the CHP’s “Justice March” last year, who have been beaten by the police in street protests, or who simply feel a need to see a leader that does not need to yield to the politics of the AK Party. With this in mind, Karamollaoğlu almost resembles Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party in the U.K. or Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party in the U.S.
The Felicity Party and Karamollaoğlu advocate a better and perhaps more nationalistic economic policy, a decent judiciary, and an end to unfair recruitment practices in the state. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clearly sees the challenge and the deep tide that is rising. Once upon a time these “elders” silently stepped aside to pave his way. But now they are coming back.