Is there really a Turkish style democracy?

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is back in the folds of the party that he co-founded 16 years ago.

Having consolidated his powers in the country at the last month’s referendum, Mr. Erdogan now aims to rejuvenate the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The result of the 16 April referendum, was not the emphatic endorsement the President had sought.

The narrow majority and a contested outcome have bitterly disappointed both the President and the party.  The AKP that had won every election since its creation in 2001, managed to secure an executive presidency, but lost support in almost every big city, including Istanbul, Mr. Erdogan’s own constituency.

It has failed to convince the young, better educated, more prosperous, and professional sections of the society. In some traditionally conservative districts of Istanbul, like Fatih and Uskudar, long considered to be AKP strongholds, the natural base has turned away from the party.

The narrowness of its victory has exposed long-simmering internal struggles, too.  The AKP has already launched a comprehensive analysis over the April 16 referendum results.  Uncharacteristically, different factions started to argue with each other publicly.

While some criticised the aggressive tactics used by the pro-government propaganda machine, others blamed those with less-than total loyalty  to their  cause.

As one pro-government columnist, Kemal Öztürk, wrote in his Yeni Safak column, the AKP faithful in Anatolia was waiting for Mr. Erdogan to return and tighten his grip on the party.

They are questioning the disease of favouritism that has taken over the groups, the reasons for breaking off from the big ideals and the pampering of those after little stakes. They are self-criticizing the annoying discriminatory tone the pro-AK Party media is using,” he said.

The constitutional changes approved in the April 16 referendum should take effect after the November 2019 elections. However, the amendment abolishing the requirement for the president to be impartial and non-partisan was put into effect immediately.

Following his registration as a member, Mr. Erdogan can now be elected as the leader at an extraordinary congress of the party on May 21.

Considering Mr. Erdogan has never acted as a non-partisan, symbolic figurehead, but has maintained a close control of all institutions during his presidency, there is a tendency to dismiss it as “merely formalizing” a de facto situation.  This is not wrong, but it misses the point.

During the ceremony in which he rejoined the party on May 2, Mr. Erdogan, himself, has admitted that his separation from the party was only an official one. “The distance between us was just a requirement of the legislation. Our hearts were always together, they have always been so,” he said.

In addition to institutionalizing the party-state and one-man rule, he will now be able to mend the cracks, galvanize the party and rally his loyalists.

More importantly, he will have a firmer hand to start the long-delayed purge of the suspected Gulenists inside the party.

The AKP insists that the Gulenist movement, that has been infiltrating every State institution for more than 40 years in the country, had no influence on their party.  The scale and extent of the purges conducted everywhere else, except the AKP, which had allied itself with the movement for years, is less than convincing.

Now, with the referendum out of the way, and some time to go before a general election, we can expect Mr. Erdogan to put his own house in order.

In the meantime, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has again fallen into utter disarray.

It is not only the ruling party that makes up the “Turkish style democracy”. The opposition puts in a good effort, too.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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