The second phase of AKP rule and systemic change in Turkey
Five weeks after the April 16 referendum which consolidated executive powers in the president’s hands – while also enabling the president to lead a political party instead of maintain his erstwhile non-partisan status – Tayyip Erdoğan returned to the chair of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) at an extraordinary congress on May 21 in Ankara.
He was the only candidate for the post anyway. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım stepped down from the party chairman’s post. Regardless, the Prime Ministry as an institution will dissolve gradually due to the constitutional change of April 16. Yıldırım said in his address to Congress that, by that way, the AK Parti is lifting all intermediary barriers between the people and the political authority representing the will of people, i.e., the president.
In his two-hour-long speech, Erdoğan said that from now on, decisions will be taken and implemented with speed, without being obstructed or delayed by any other force. During the referendum campaign, Erdoğan had been pointing at the judiciary and parliament as occasional sources of such delay.
Erdoğan’s re-election as chairman of the AK Parti is not only the beginning of the second phase of the AK Parti rule, which has continued uninterruptedly since 2002. The AK Parti is thoroughly Erdoğan’s now, but it is also the second phase of the system change in Turkey, with the first implementation being the April 16 constitutional changes. The country has taken its second step toward the executive presidential system with the president at its epicenter.
Erdoğan also said in his speech that from now on, anyone who wanted to rule Turkey will have to gain 50 percent plus one of the vote, as nothing less would end the era of coalition governments. According to the president, that will force political parties to go beyond their bases and reach out to different walks of life, because if they stick with their ideologies, or ethnic or religious identities, they will lose. “Parties will have to be more embracing,” Erdoğan said.
It was not easy to observe that the embracing spirit in the new figures who will take up posts in the executive bodies of the AK Parti as voted in at the congress on May 21. As could be expected, Erdoğan decided to walk with names – to a large degree – who had no presence in politics of note before him and his AK Parti, who opened their eyes in politics with Erdoğan and are loyal to him – more than they are loyal to an ideology or even the party that they are supposed to administer.
Very few of the veterans of the AK Parti succeeded in retaining their positions in the executive bodies; the winners were only those who have proven their loyalty through the ups and downs of the last few years, especially in the struggle against the illegal network led by Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher who lives in the United States and has been held responsible for the military coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
Now similar steps are expected to be taken in the cabinet. It would not surprise political observers in Ankara to see some new names in the cabinet who are not members of parliament amid speculation that the shift may include one or more names from among the president’s advisers.
It is highly likely that there could be important changes in AK Parti-held municipalities and provincial branches to the degree that one could dub it an in-house cleaning.
Erdoğan said there could be radical changes in the next six months – which he calls a revolution – to take place in addition to the harmonization laws, although he did not provide any clues.
But the changes in the AK Parti executive bodies give all the necessary clues: Erdoğan needs a new generations of politicians who will implement his plans without asking much, and it seems he is likely to get what he wants.