The AK Party and Dec 17
On Dec. 17, 2013, an operation in which a group of irrelevant files of investigations and names were merged was carried out with the joint efforts of prosecutors and the police. Strategically timed right before the elections, this operation shattered the political agenda. Soon after the news broke, it became clearly evident that prosecutors and the police were motivated more by their political agenda, than a desire to pursue the guilty. The local elections suddenly disappeared from the political agenda. An examination of the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) decade-long incumbency shows that it has emerged triumphant from all crises caused by external interventions in politics.
Right before the elections in 2002, Tayyip Erdoğan was disqualified from the race. The AK Party emerged from an election in which Erdoğan was not present with a crushing victory as the top party in Parliament. Right before the elections in 2007, the military and the judiciary moved together. First, the judiciary, in an effort to prevent the AK Party from electing the president, pulled out of thin air, the qualifying condition of 367 votes. Then the military attempted a “soft-coup” via a memorandum on the Armed Forces website. The AK Party prevailed in the 2007 elections with 47 percent of the popular vote and Abdullah Gül as president without further complications. Political tensions ran high in the 2010 Constitutional referendum as it coincided with the Turkish secular establishment’s existential crisis.
Nevertheless, 58 percent of the votes were cast in favor of the AK Party. The scene did not change during the 2011 elections. The AK Party won by 50 percent of the votes. Since its establishment, the AK Party ran seven (three general, two local and two referendum) electoral races and emerged triumphant in all of them. This is not to say the AK Party won’t lose the elections this time around. However, it could mean that the media and the foreign political elite misinterpret the reasons why the AK Party wins the elections. This is evident in the fact that these actors continue to misinterpret the aftermath of the Dec. 17 operation.
In 2008, faced with an ugly suit that sought to close the party, the AK Party used the slogan, “We are ready to lose if Turkey will win.” The secret of the AK Party’s relationship with its constituents is actually hidden in this slogan. Erdoğan seems to compensate, for all voters, whether they support the AK Party or not, for the “lack of stability” that has ailed Turkish politics since the end of the 19th century. Once identity politics were added into this formulation, there were no alternatives to the AK Party, and as such it was transformed into the hegemonic political actor. The voter behavior in the aftermath of the Dec. 17 operation, confirms this observation.
In other words, the voters perceive the AK Party as the only constructive and serious political actor. When faced with a crisis, the voters, instead of demanding a change of political actors, demanded that the AK Party change itself. This, in fact, means that to a great extent the AK Party fosters politics in Turkey. The inability of the main opposition to remain viable political actors has played just as important a role in this as Erdoğan’s political savvy. It seems this situation will continue for as long as the opposition perceives politics as nothing but a process of incessant complaints and blame games.