Is only President Erdoğan immune to ‘metal fatigue’?
No-one was surprised when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a substantial in-house re-structuring in the Justice and Development Party (AKP), after he resumed chairmanship of the party in late May 2017 following the referendum on constitutional amendments in April.
Because the referendum could be won by only a very narrow margin, despite support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan realized that he needed to take action to achieve success in the three elections scheduled for 2019.
His diagnosis for the state of the AKP was “metal fatigue,” and the recipe he proposed was a comprehensive overhaul of the entire party structure, beginning from the party headquarters to the smallest local organization. He renewed the cabinet and his aides in the party, while changing almost half of more than 500 provincial organizations through conventions, hoping to conclude this “regeneration” by early 2018.
This in-house campaign has also included the mayors of some of Turkey’s biggest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa - where the AKP’s performance in the April referendum was very poor. This process was rather painful for Erdoğan, and the only way to convince these mayors to step down has been to effectively blackmail them.
Speaking to reporters on Oct. 24, Erdoğan vowed to do “whatever it takes” to succeed in the upcoming elections. “Our main focus is on success. We will do whatever is necessary for success,” Erdoğan said.
The conclusion of this in-house process will likely occur following the resignation of Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek on Oct. 28 and Balıkesir Mayor Edip Uğur next week. However, there are still 17 months to go until the local elections and 24 months until the parliamentary and presidential elections, meaning that the “regeneration” of the AKP will not alone help Erdoğan secure the 50 percent-plus-one vote necessary in the 2019 elections. He must surely address some of the key problems facing the country and lead a positive agenda throughout those election campaigns.
Such a positive agenda is a growing need for Erdoğan in both domestic and external politics. Turkey’s relationships with its traditional allies in the West are ringing fresh alarm bells everyday over the economy and security, as well as the country’s reputation in the world. Ties with the U.S. are unlikely to be repaired soon and there are even concerns that they may get worse in the coming weeks.
EU leaders did not take any final decision on Ankara’s membership bid in last week’s European Council meeting, but only delayed it until spring 2018. A continued crackdown on the opposition, dissident journalists, academics and activists, as well as further extensions of the state of emergency, will harm any reconciliation with both the EU and prominent European countries.
Domestically, many people want a de-escalation of tension and a return to normalcy. Macro-economic figures highlight relatively high growth, but the economy of ordinary people suggests otherwise. Ankara’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), meanwhile, has been continuing at full speed inside and outside Turkey, risking the further loosening of the AKP’s bonds with traditional Kurdish voters. Turkey’s harsh rhetoric against the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) independence bid and threats against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria also have the potential to create problems for the ruling party’s 2019 bid.
The AKP’s path to success ahead of the November 2015 election was based on rather negative campaigning, which aimed to boost the nationalist emotions of the public by highlighting existential threats against the unity and survival of the country. The July 2016 failed coup attempt provided yet another basis for the government to resort to this strategy, which secured a (narrow) approval of the constitutional amendments.
Today, Erdoğan and his AKP seem to have little more to promise the Turkish public other than nationalism and “the-whole-world-is-against-us” psychology. Time will tell whether Erdoğan is himself also suffering from what he calls “metal fatigue,” or whether he will be creative enough to lead his party to more wins in upcoming elections.