Kremlinology alla Turca, or understanding in-house AKP politics

Kremlinology alla Turca, or understanding in-house AKP politics

The political backstage of Ankara was stirred at lunchtime on Sept. 17, when President Tayyip Erdoğan paid an unplanned visit to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to perform Friday prayers together in the mosque inside the Çankaya prime ministerial - formerly presidential - compound on top of the capital’s Çankaya Hill. 

Perhaps it would be too much to call it “Kremlinology alla Turca,” but the timing of the visit raised eyebrows, as it was only hours before the 5:00 p.m. deadline to submit the candidate lists for the re-election on Nov. 1 to the Supreme Election Board (YSK).

At the Justice and Development Parti’s (AK Parti) Sept. 12 congress last week, Davutoğlu was re-elected as party leader without any competition and with full votes, but the executive bodies of the party were formed under the strong influence of Erdoğan. The president did not want to risk any divergent voice as he took Turkey to another election after the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 election, jeopardizing Erdoğan’s aim of ruling as if the constitution has already changed to a presidential system. At the congress, many names close to Abdullah Gül - the former president and also one of the founding triumvirate of the AK Parti (together with Erdoğan and Bülent Arınç) - were removed from the party’s central decision-making board. These names included Ali Babacan, Turkey’s economy tsar for the last 13 years, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, and veteran politician Beşir Atalay.

When asked during a live TV interview on Sept. 17 on private broadcaster NTV, Gül said such names, including Arınç, had been of utmost importance carrying AK Party governments to today and their absence would be a loss.

There had been speculation that Erdoğan did not want these names to be included in the AK Parti’s next parliamentary group either. There was also speculation that Berat Albayrak, the president’s son-in-law who was elected as a member of parliament on June 7, may assume a key role in the direction of the Turkish economy, which caused some murmuring among Istanbul business circles. 

However, after in-house debates Babacan, Şimşek and Atalay all figured in well-placed positions in the candidate lists announced on Sept. 18. But more than 40 percent of the AK Parti candidate list on June 7 has been changed for the Nov. 1 election - a major shift within only a few months. That major change excludes the names shifted from one constituency to another in order to maximize the vote potential, especially in provinces where the AK Party lost seats narrowly in June. These move show that the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu duo is doing its best to regain power in order to secure a single-party government for the AK Parti and a de facto presidential system for Erdoğan.

One of the surprises of the AK Parti’s list was the exclusion of Abdurrahman Boynukalın. Boynukalın was the leading actor in the protest in front of the daily Hürriyet headquarters in Istanbul on Sept. 6, which transformed into a violent attack. In a speech delivered at the protest, Boynukalın had threatened Hürriyet and the Doğan Media Group that when Erdoğan achieves the presidential powers he wants there would be no place for them in Turkey, “like other terrorists.” In a later video after a second attack on Sept. 8, Boynukalın was recorded as saying to AK Parti youth branch members that they should have beaten up certain journalists long before to put them back in line, giving the names of Hürriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin and columnist Ahmet Hakan. The AK Parti government has received a high-level domestic and international reaction over pressure on the media since then.

Is Boynukalın’s exclusion from the list a move to express respect for media freedom, or a move to decrease tension between the AK Parti and independent media as Turkey heads to a new election? It may be too early to tell, but at least it was something.