Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Powder keg

In his relentless drive to force Turkey under his sole rule, Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have overstepped the mark and risked shattering the party he co-founded, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the aftermath of the stunning setback that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) sustained in the legislative polls of 7 June, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose term had just ended, acknowledged that the Turkish people had had their say and that they did not want a presidential system of government.

In the subsequent months leading up to the highly controversial early elections of 1 November, Davutoglu avoided mention of the subject in his electoral campaign speeches. That drastic setback for the AKP on 7 June also came as a slap in the face for Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the lead-up to the polls, and at a time when the national budget hardly needed additional strains, Erdogan shuttled back and forth across the length and breadth of Anatolia for conferences, presidential visits and official inaugurations of this project and that, all of which were used as occasions to promote the AKP, flagrantly flouting the constitutional provision requiring the president’s political impartiality.

To aggravate the sting, pollsters and analysts close to the AKP determined that he, the president himself, had been one of the chief causes of the decline in the popularity of the party that he had co-founded and that he had headed for many years. Because of this, he grudgingly bowed to the advice of his advisors and kept as low a profile as possible during the campaigns for the 1 November elections, until after the polls had closed and the results were announced.

Yet, amazingly, when the AKP emerged victorious, after having marshalled the full weight of government machinery and state media behind itself, Erdogan got it into his head that the people had voted for him and for his plan to change the country’s system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential one. So he immediately knuckled down to do battle again.

He would not say so openly, of course, but his movements have gradually revealed his intent, which is to push for another round of elections. Of particular note are regular meetings in his presidential palace with village mukhtars and mayors — his formidable ballot box bastions in the countryside — to ensure their continued loyalty, vigilance and readiness for the next step, which he is confident will win him a decisive victory in what the famous Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has described as Erdogan’s “mission impossible” towards one-man rule.

Still, Erdogan needs to find some justification to call for a third round of general elections in less than a year, and he is determined to produce it. Despite the remarkable rebound the AKP accomplished in the 1 November polls, the 317 seats it currently holds in parliament are 13 short of an important number: 330. This is the minimum parliamentary tally required to bring a constitutional amendment to a public referendum.

As he knows that it would be virtually impossible to win opposition MPs over to his side to reach the necessary majority, he has resolved to drive the country towards his only option: still more elections. This entails turning the full force of his enormous propaganda machine against the opposition and portraying it is an obstacle to the people’s desire to change the “coup-makers’ constitution” (referring to the 1980 military coup) to a “civil and democratic constitution”.

He will persist in this tactic until the people not only scream for another round of elections, but are ready to give his party the whole two-thirds majority (which can pass a constitutional amendment without recourse to a plebiscite) needed, without having to grovel to those who do not want the best for the country and are therefore opposed to his project for a “new Turkey” with himself at the helm.

But even this will not be easy, despite his almost total grip over every institution of the state and corner of the media. Moreover, his “mission” has been further complicated by developments within the AKP itself.

Before leaving the premiership, officially standing down as AKP head, and moving into his sparkling new presidential palace, Erdogan had a new provision inserted into the ruling party’s bylaws. It prohibits AKP parliamentary deputies who have served three terms in parliament from fielding themselves for another term.

Naturally, given Erdogan’s well-known attitudes toward democracy, this amendment was hardly motivated by his stated desire to inject younger blood into the party’s leadership. Rather, the aim was to clip the wings of potential rivals, especially among the ranks of the old guard, his long-time associates who worked with him to establish the AKP and lead it to victory in the opening years of this millennium.

The problem is that some of these associates, colleagues and even friends were not content with the places on the shelf that Erdogan had in store for them. In fact, they believed that they were still qualified to serve, all the more so because their reputations, at least, were free of the taint of corruption and scandal that had begun to cast its shadow over the upper echelons of power a couple of years ago.

Chief among those who refused to keep their peace is Bülent Arınç, AKP co-founder and former deputy prime minister and AKP parliamentary deputy, who was driven to an act of open defiance. In an interview on CNN Türk, he effectively called his erstwhile friend and beloved president, whose love he lost, a liar.

Erdogan had claimed that he had not been informed in advance about the “Dolmabahçe declaration” regarding a blueprint for the settlement of the Kurdish issue, which was read out in a joint press conference on the steps of the famous Dolmabahçe Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus in February last year.

According to Arınç, however, Erdogan not only knew about the agreement struck in a meeting in that palace between AKP officials and representatives of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), but he had also arranged the seating plan for the meeting. Arınç’s claim sustains the opposition argument that Erdogan deliberately “kicked over the negotiating table” in the peace process to win ultranationalist votes in the June elections.

Naturally, that broadside against the leader, delivered by such a senior figure in the AKP hierarchy, triggered a huge commotion that rumbled through the corridors of power. The walls have cracked, and private grumblings and muffled murmurs have suddenly roared into the open as salvos are being hurled back and forth between members of the once seemingly cohesive party. In that subsequent din were signs that the divergence of views inside the AKP is heading toward a sharper polarisation that threatens a schism within the ruling party that, in turn, will reverberate throughout the Ataturk Republic.

Arinç’s remarks, broadcast to millions of people on CNN Türk, and the publicised resentful remarks of other AKP luminaries before him indicate that the AKP is no longer an unshakable citadel and that a kind of internal revolt against its chief founder, Erdogan, has begun. This in turn begs the question as to whether individuals such as former president Abdullah Gül, Arınç, former education minister Hüseyin Çelik and former prime minister Ali Babacan might join forces to establish a new political party that would rival the AKP.

Undoubtedly such an alternative would attract quite a few AKP parliamentary deputies who are disturbed by the current direction the party is taking, and by the prospect of a system of government that would marginalise their role as parliamentarians.

According to Ahmet Hakan, in his column in Hürriyet, so far there are no signs that the former AKP officials are trying to found a new party, but the possibility cannot be ruled out for the future.

Adding weight to this view is an Aydinlik article that predicts that the coming period will bring mounting criticisms against the president and the Davutoglu cabinet, and that many of these will emanate from a growing number of ruling party MPs who are opposed to Turkey’s conversion to a presidential system of government.

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