Erdoğan’s ‘forever AKP’ target for Turkey

Erdoğan’s ‘forever AKP’ target for Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has regularly stunned domestic and international public opinion with his off-the-beaten track remarks since he moved from the Prime Ministry to the Presidency after the August 2014 elections.

He has snubbed the United Nations with a catchy slogan “The world is bigger than five” (referring to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council), come up with the discovery of America by Arab sailors long before Columbus, and slammed the Nobel committee for "discriminating against the Islamic world."

He has also vowed to alter the Turkish education system, which he criticizes for letting Turkish students learn much about Albert Einstein but not so much about Avicenna (known in Turkey as İbn-i Sina), described gender equality as being against human nature, and dismissed in advance a possible Constitutional Court ruling on a 10 percent election threshold as a plot against the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

For some, those are rhetorical attempts to divert public attention from serious issues, like Turkey’s current disagreement with the U.S. over the method to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Kurdish issue, fatal mine accidents, or economic problems. 

For others, especially when considered together with the much-debated new "Ak Saray" presidential palace, these remarks indicate an increasing attempt to strengthen Erdoğan's one-man rule in the “new” Turkish system.

However, there is another dimension: The AK Parti has become the first ever “dominant party” in Turkish politics in the multi-party system, enjoying uninterrupted rule since 2002. 

Of course, it is not the only example of this in modern politics. The Christian Democrats in Italy, for example, ruled for 50 years between 1944 and 1994. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party served between 1955-1993 and 1994-2004, and is again in power now. In Sweden, the Social Democrats ruled uninterrupted between 1932 and 1976 and are currently the leading party there. The African National Congress has been in power in South Africa since 1994. Certain states in the U.S. (like California, Massachusetts and Maryland) are almost always led by Democrats, while others (like Texas, Utah, Arizona and Kansas) are almost always Republican. In Germany, parties of the Christian Social Union have ruled since 1957. More examples could be found.

There are two main factors that provide the right conditions for a party to maintain a dominant role. The first is to deliver economic and social benefits that make the lives of the masses easier, (though not necessarily make them wealthy). The second is the presence of an unstable opposition that cannot renew itself or its program.

Erdoğan wants to maintain the AK Parti’s dominant role in Turkish politics until at least the 2023 elections (the 100th anniversary of the Republic) - so at least for another decade. Considering the previous 12 years under him, another decade seems like a lifetime.

The recent eyebrow-raising rhetoric from Erdoğan looks like part of a strategy to consolidate his base by providing ideological motivation that cannot be broken by daily political or economic problems: Something they can be proud of - either through a nationalistic past or a religious identity. In the meantime, he is also able to make smart and subversive moves to distract attention away from the opposition parties by creating mostly artificial subjects to focus debate on.

This seems to have worked so far, but will it work forever? It may not so easy for a country with as many complexities as Turkey.

UPDATE: Republicans won Maryland, Illinois and Massachussets in 2014 Governor Elections, as reminded by Bülent Aliriza of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which endorses the fact that “dominant party” role can change due to changing political climate.