Now, this is the moment I was waiting for.
When it came to the real challenge – I mean ‘taking the bull by the horns’ – Erdoğan’s most recent stepping in to totally restructure his own party is the one. His rise or (slow motion) fall will be defined by this. One may always say, ‘it is the economy, stupid’ but it is here these elements somehow merge together, because the party, the AKP, that carried Erdoğan to the absolute top has become irreversibly corrupt and the very rotten system which created parasitic entities will have to respond to his interventions.
Signs of AKP’s well-being have been since the referendum in April been contradictory. While there have been no reliable, independent opinion poll conducted since then, the insider reports from within the party clash between the claims that the nearly % 50 voters support remains intact and the assertions that about % 10-15 shifted into ‘undecided’ status.
As the AKP celebrates 16th anniversary of its foundation, rumours have been swirling forcefully. Erdoğan has been candid about a need for change; he used the term ‘metal fatigue’ for nothing. This description only point out to determination that he will stop at nothing to turn the party into a Baathist format, in which absolute loyalty, and nothing else, counts.
Meanwhile, the other founders, the so-called ‘grey-haired’ lead figures who were the architects of the AKP programme as Turkey jumped into the millennium with immense systemic problems, sit rather silently and watch. Obviously fearful for rage and revenge from the ‘great leader’ they at best send out vague signals of dissent.
One of them is Abdullah Gül – the former president. He is according to some reports frequently visited by some dismayed ministers these days. The most remarkable gesture of his was the refusal to attend the anniversary celebrations this week. Usually silent Gül could have sufficed with it, but he went further and issued a statement. His remark was summarized in a phrase:
”The AKP should continue its path by readopting the values and policies as its guide; by merging the universal criteria of democracy with its values.”
This was, by Gül’s standards, a loud message, emphasizing ‘readoption’ and an imperative. İt is clear he has entrenched himself, awaiting how the AKP’s local branches will react when Erdoğan starts bulldozing the established cadres.
There are others among the ‘grey haired’ founders who have become vocal lately. As it is known, the party was more or less until 2007 run collectively – and succesfully – by a collective leadership in which Erdoğan was treated as ‘ecumenical’.
While Gül as the FM was the reform-oriented ‘smooth operator’ who in cabinet meetings constantly restrained Erdoğan, Bülent Arınç and Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat were the ones who appealed to AKP’s Turkish and Kurdish grassroots, and the economy was managed by Abdüllatif Şener and Ali Babacan. In the past six years, Erdoğan was keen to liquidate all of them, in his pursuit of one-man rule. Sycophants who in the palace flocked around him were extremely influential in dispersing his doubts about keeping them, whenever he had those second thoughts.
And it is now another ‘grey haired’, Abdüllatif Şener, who apparently smelled blood. Otherwise having kept silent since his dramatic resignation from the party ten years ago, Şener – regarded as the chief architect of AKP’s initial party programme in August 2001 – is extremely outspoken these days, shedding light on what went wrong with Erdoğan and his abandoning the democratic reform path.
The interview he gave to Köln-based Turkish-Kurdish news site, Artı Gerçek, is filled with interesting remarks. Here are some of them, that can be interesting for the reader.
”What went wrong under Erdoğan?’ is the first question.
”It was defined by Erdoğan’s personality, identity and style. But it was also the problematic law on political parties, which in anti-democrati it makes it easy for a one-man based path. He was focused on a single power and rested on this law” says Şener and states that Erdoğan never aimed at establishing a democratic order in Turkey. All he wanted was to expand his influence and power.
‘Whenever the conjuncture allowed and whenever social and institutional elements paved way, he took those steps. And he ended up where he is today.’
To gain legitimacy, Erdoğan had to ‘use’ the EU, Şener says.
The other one was the Kurdish Peace Process, which he claims turned upside down Erdoğan’s calculations. But all along, his pattern was to use and abuse whichever groups was in his favour.
”It was the same with the Gülen Movement; he walked with it for a while, in order to gain power within the bureaucracy. When it turned into a threatful clash of interests, he turned into purging all of them. This is a very complex structure and process; these are not coincidental processes, both from political and legal aspects…’
There were several critical thresholds that has led to Erdoğan’s march to autocracy, according to Şener. When the Constitutional Court decided (in 2008) not to shut down the AKP, Erdoğan felt emboldened by the notion that the judicial control over the party was over. This was the first threshold.
And the second one was those amendments after the much-debated constitutional referendum in 2010, which helped Erdoğan to ‘pacify’ the checks and balances system to his favour. This is when the pattern to criminalize the political opposition started to take shape, which led to lifting of the deputies’ immunities. And, thirdly, there was the third threshold: Kurdish Peace Process which was terminated in 2015.
”The peace process was used by him to cement his personel domination and power, but when it evolved into mechanism which had started to lead Turkey to a solution and democratisation, it clashed with Erdoğan’s political strategy. At that stage he threw in the towel and turned the Kurdish issue into a fierce poltical battlefield.’
Şener counts the failed coup last summer – which he describes as an event ‘so far unknown about by whom and how it was organized and conducted’ – as the final threshold for Erdoğan to acumulate power in his person.
”Just because a debate in which dissenting views are forbidden in this country, there is only a single-line publications (in media) and we are unable to learn the crucial details. As a result of all these, and because of the oppression on the entire opposition, there is no more any poolitical or bureaucratical structure left to limit Erdoğan’s power. He could not have achieved all this if he had not instrumentalized democracy.”
So, here we are.
Back to the question: Now that he is entirely exposed in his quest for absolute power, will Erdoğan be able to take the bull by the horns and shape the ruling party totally into one, into an obedient political flock? It is true that he has managed to build a strong enough security and ‘mukhabarat’ system around his palace, backed by some armed militia groups, but, having squeezed himself inside a nationalist-militarist-conservative alliance block, it will be a real challenge. There are those who see it as the beginning of the end for his rise; but having his enormous skills for survival and cunning mind, I am cautious.
He may – and probably will – surprise us all.