The AK Party’s extraordinary convention

The AK Party’s extraordinary convention

The extraordinary convention of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) concluded as expected over the weekend. 

First of all, I would like to point out that party conventions in Turkey long ago stopped being a platform of free debate and true elections for the party in question. They have instead become merely platforms of propaganda and approval. This is especially the case for right-wing parties. The weekly parliamentary group meetings held by all parties every Tuesday are similar. 

It was not like this under the Democrat Party (DP) led by Adnan Menderes, in the first era of the Justice Party led by Süleyman Demirel, or in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) before the Sept. 12 coup, when it was led by Alparslan Türkeş. Back then debates were freely held, as well as criticisms and real intra-party elections. 

Today, the institutional weaknesses of parties and the interests of TV stations have transformed party conventions into political propaganda and event platforms. This is a general trend. Political scientist Giovanni Sartori in his book “Constitutional Engineering” defines this trend as “video democracy.”

Of course, this marks a reduction in the quality of democracy. 

Going back to the AK Party convention, even though the results were known beforehand, a number of extremely important developments occurred.

More than anything else, a party structure in which President Erdoğan is more dominant than ever was formed. His message to the congress was read out and all the participants listened to it on their feet. 

Indeed, Erdoğan was always the dominant leader of his party. But it was in this latest convention that instead of the “our founder chair” description of him, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the party “has one leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This will be the case so long as the AK Party exists.”

The new chair and prime minister Binali Yıldırım also started his speech with the same emphasis. He was keen to emphasize a focus on the “presidential system.” While Yıldırım then went on to talk about the development of roads, bridges and airports, the slogan “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” continued to be chanted in the hall. 

Meanwhile, on the party’s new Central Decision-Making Council (MKYK) list, the names of founders and individuals known in the party’s earlies eras were reduced, while new and lesser known names were increased. 

To top it all, the new cabinet will hold its first meeting at the Presidential Palace, highlighting the de facto presidential system in place. 

However, one of the most important, historic notes at the convention was struck by the “different” speech given by outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu referred to Erdoğan only as “our president and founding chair.” He did not mention the presidential system. He emphasized “a pro-freedom and democratic constitution with the soul of justice.” 

Davutoğlu also said he had to quit his post even though he was a successful prime minister, and added that he was aware of the “discomfort caused in the conscience of you and the nation” at his treatment. He said he only complied with this for the sake of party unity. 

“Like any temporary post, being in government is also a test. The poisoning effect of power and strength must be avoided. None of us is irreplaceable,” the departing prime minister added.  

Davutoğlu’s words were historic. They will not have a political outcome in the short term, and they will be forgotten if the state of affairs in both the government and Turkey become more positive. But if the course of events turns more negative and troubles increase further, they will be remembered. So will the recent critical words of former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. I believe that Davutoğlu said these words with the idea that they would be remembered in the future.