A most weird new polarization in Turkey

A most weird new polarization in Turkey

Turkey has been through a number of waves of polarization during the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) rule since 2002.

For example, there was the polarization between the conservative and pious new holders of the government on the one hand, and the staunchly secularist military and the old establishment on the other. This reached a peak during the mass demonstrations before the presidential elections in 2007 in which one of three pillars of the AK Parti, Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Abdullah Gül, was elected president. That was followed by intense prosecutions and trials that cleared Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s way.

A recent example of polarization is between Erdoğan’s AK Parti and the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar living in the United States, who had perhaps given the biggest support to Erdoğan in his fight with the former subject of polarization. It was not only police officers, prosecutors and judges but also media close to Gülen that played an indispensable role in suppressing the military and secularists in state bodies.

However, following the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe, Erdoğan denounced Gülen, his former ally, as the number-one enemy trying to undermine AK Parti power.

Turkey is now heading again for presidential elections, with the people set to cast votes for the first time this time around. Fifty percent plus one of the votes are needed, which puts the opposition in a passive position, since Erdoğan managed to win the March 30 elections despite immense corruption allegations. The opposition parties have already announced their position as being anti-Erdoğan and will decide on their candidates, possibly after the AK Parti candidate becomes clear.

But it is still not clear who the AK Parti candidate will be. Erdoğan definitely wants to replace his long-time fellow Gül in the first round of elections in possible, to be held on Aug. 10. He knows that if he leaves the job to the second round on Aug. 24, there is a slight possibility that the opposition might unite against him. Gül on the other hand, has not closed the door on a second five-year term.

Only one thing is certain: Erdoğan and Gül will not be candidates against one another. Nevertheless, the polarization we see now is within the AK Parti, between those in favor of Erdoğan and those in favor of Gül.

Gül has denied press reports that he agreed with Erdoğan during a meeting last week on a plan suggesting that Erdoğan be the presidential candidate and Gül be a candidate for the chairmanship of the AK Parti, to become prime minister after the first general elections. According to another scenario, denied by Gül, he and Numan Kurtulmuş, a deputy chairman of the AK Parti, could become co-chairmen of the party. Sources close to Gül suspect those press reports were manipulated by AK Parti headquarters.

Erdoğan, on the other hand, called all AK Parti MPs and provincial chairmen for a meeting on April 16. There, he gave a questionnaire to them asking for their opinions on two important subjects. 

One was about changing the party rule which suggests that no one can be elected to Parliament for more than three consecutive terms. That is a barrier to Erdoğan if decides not to go for the presidency but stays as party leader and an MP following the next elections. The Turkish Constitution says the prime minister should be a member of Parliament.

The second questionnaire was about the presidency. The MPs and local heads were asked to write down three names as their preferred presidential candidates.

In a written statement issued by the party, it was said that the party would decide on a candidate by early May following a series of meetings.

In can be concluded after press reports that the questionnaire forms were to be signed by the participants, meaning it can be surmised that Erdoğan wants to gain full party support against Gül in this race.

It is not very pleasant to say, but the political atmosphere in Turkey is becoming so dominated by one party that such polarization is even emerging within that one organization.