Is there an AKP after Erdoğan?

Is there an AKP after Erdoğan?

Mehmet Ali Şahin is the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), in charge of policy. Having previously served as justice minister, deputy prime minister and parliamentary speaker, Şahin currently holds the number two position in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s party.

On April 21, during a live interview with NTV, he said that if Erdoğan decided to be a candidate for the presidency in the August elections and was elected, one of the four deputy prime ministers would become the acting prime minister. There are currently four deputy PMs: Bülent Arınç, Beşir Atalay, Ali Babacan and Emrullah İşler.

At first sight there is no news in the simple constitutional fact that Şahin gave. The news, however, lies in the fact that the ruling party has officially started debating a post-Erdoğan future in public. This debate is a crucial one regarding Erdoğan’s decision about whether to declare his presidential candidacy.

This is mainly because of two former examples in 1980s and 1990s. Two powerful center-right parties with powerful leaders both started an irreversible decline after their leaders decided to leave the prime ministry for the presidency. The first was Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party (ANAP); the second was Süleyman Demirel’s True Path Party (DYP). The tendency is now known in Turkish politics as “Anapization.”

The possibility of the “Anapization of the AK Parti” if Erdoğan ascends to the Presidential Palace on Çankaya Hill in Ankara is one of the subjects under discussion both in government and in opposition circles.

Oktay Ekşi, a deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) wrote in the Cumhuriyet newspaper on April 21 - despite his party’s official line that they do not want to see Erdoğan as president - that perhaps it was better to see Erdoğan as president, because his AK Parti would then “quickly erode” in his absence.

Meanwhile, Mustafa Karaalioğlu, one of the columnists closest to Erdoğan and one of his close aides, wrote in the Star newspaper on April 21 that an “Anapization risk” was real up until President Abdullah Gül’s statement on April 18 that he did not have any future plans to continue in politics under the circumstances, but had since disappeared.

The picture may not be as black-and-white as both Ekşi and Karaalioğlu have suggested.

It is clear that Erdoğan wants to get elected as president but also wants to keep full control over the government and his party. Especially the latter would be impossible de jure, but de facto it depends on who will be the new prime minister and chairman of the AK Parti.

If the new PM agrees to act precisely according to Erdoğan’s designs, which for example could include the latter chairing Cabinet meetings and downgrading the prime minister into the position of a coordinator for Cabinet, it could be possible in practice.

Based on statements from Erdoğan’s quarters - such as those suggesting that Erdoğan would like to be in charge of all executive powers and that President Gül could perhaps share the chairmanship of the party under another name - Gül said on April 18 that he did not want to be involved in that game.

But if such a powerful figure as Gül is not in the game other than as a powerful PM or, as has also been suggested by Erdoğan, as a candidate for a second term of five years, the future of the AK Parti could also be put in jeopardy, just like the questions about whether there will be an AK Parti after Erdoğan.

That’s the reason why Erdoğan is still evaluating the situation, despite a clear win in the March 30 elections against all allegations of corruption. That’s also why the possibility of a continuation of Gül’s presidency for another term is still on the table.