New center-right party aims at Erdoğan’s AKP

New center-right party aims at Erdoğan’s AKP

A new party is expected to announce its establishment under the name of the “Center Party” on July 7. It claims the “center,” but despite some of the individuals expected to be among its founders being of center-left origin, the majority of those with grassroots links are of right wing origin.

A professor of law from Istanbul, Abdurrahim Karslı - a name that very few people have heard of in political circles - is likely to be the party's founding chairman. In a recent interview with daily “Milliyet,” he refuted media claims that the driving force of the Center Party was the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. He also denies that he went to Gülen’s farmhouse in Pennsylvania to consult with Gülen and receive his consent about the new party he is about to announce. Once a close ally of Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Gülen is now almost public enemy number one in the eyes of Prime Minister Erdoğan. That is due to the major graft probe opened on Dec. 17, 2013, involving names from Erdoğan’s government, party and even his family. Erdoğan accused Gülenist judges, prosecutors and police officers of being behind the investigations and trying to undermine his power. 

Saying he would be one of the founders of the new Center Party, Haluk Pirimoğlu, who recently resigned from the administration of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Parliament told the Hürriyet Daily News that they wanted to attract voters who are voting for the AK Parti not because they agreed with Erdoğan, but because they cannot find what they want in the opposition parties - mainly the MHP and the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). He also claimed that as soon as they found the party, they will be able to form a group in Parliament, which requires at least 20 of the 550 seats. It is an ambitious venture, since some of the names he mentioned are either current members of the AK Parti, or have been forced to resign from the AK Parti recently, some accused of working for Gülen, not Erdoğan.

We’ll see if this happens, but if it does happen, the new party is not likely to claim that it will take power from Erdoğan by attracting a majority of votes. However, it could make life more difficult for Erdoğan in his projects where parliamentary voting is involved, as Erdoğan has locked up his target to become the 12th president of Turkey in the elections, of which the first round is to be held on Aug. 10. If the MPs really could form a group in Parliament and decrease AK Parti's votes from the existing 313, it could not only put in question some important schemes, such the legal package for the Kurdish peace process, but it would also increase the unit value of the remaining AK Parti MPs. It would also further distance Erdoğan from a possible constitutional amendment (for a presidential system instead of the current parliamentary one, for example), which needs 367 votes to be passed in Parliament. At least 330 are needed to take it to a national referendum.

But it is not only the Center Party people who are looking for a new political formation nowadays. Erdoğan may or may not close all the doors and windows of the AK Parti to President Abdullah Gül after the completion of his term on Aug. 28. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who is among the three founding fathers of the AK Parti together with Erdoğan and Gül, told Hürriyet on July 4 that if invited, he did not think Gül would refuse to replace Erdoğan in the party and the government. The question is whether Erdoğan would like that; whether he would like to see a powerful prime minister, rather than a weaker one to be steered by the presidential palace?

If they go for a weak president, Erdoğan may cut Gül’s ties to the party echelons, and Gül’s retirement would take no longer than a few months. People then might start speculating about the “Second Özal Party” - referring to former president Turgut Özal - which would again be conservative and respectful to faith, but also secular and focused on Western-style democracy.