In the current economic, political and societal climate, we have to consider the possibility that Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might enter a period of implosion, without being able to carry its own weight any longer.
The Elazığ earthquake, which took place on January 24, had a death toll of 41 while 1607 people were wounded. This recent earthquake showed once again that some buildings can collapse even when the neighboring buildings show no sign of severe damage. Sometimes this is due to the use of faulty materials and sometimes to attempts at gaining space by removing load-bearing columns, the pillars; the building eventually becomes unable to hold up its weight and collapses in ground movements that merely cause slight damage in the buildings nearby.
In physics, demolition of a structure can take place in two ways: an explosion, i.e. outwards or implosion, i.e. inwards. In politics, the first way is what we call a revolution, while the second would mean a rather quick failure in governance and loss of control over developments. An example for that second probability was seen in Turkey when the 1999 coalition between the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Motherland Party (ANAP) had lost control and effect before eventually disintegrating following the 2001 economic crisis and the quick developments that ensued. Thankfully, the process that had brought down the government of the day resolved with a democratic handover following the 2002 elections; a new parliament comprised of AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was set up and the country entered into a period of recovery. Unadulterated elections ensured that the collapse of the parties and the government would not have the same disastrous effect on the state and societal life.
Increasing weight upon AKP
In his attempt to comfort the earthquake victims, President Erdoğan ended up in the accident narrative and on fate; the state, of course, would come rushing to help. Help came from all quarters of Turkey as a demonstration of social solidarity.
But someone had something else in their minds. For example, Elazığ governor Çetin Oktay Kaldırım was heard saying, as he accidentally recorded by press microphones, that “the puıblis perception is good right now” to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Kaldırım’s fellow townsman from the Black sea city of Trabzon. What was this good perception, while people were still stuck under ruins? Was it the government’s perception?
There were, once again, some that claimed unbelief caused the earthquake. Bedri Gencer, who is among the professors of Istanbul’s Yıldız Techincal University, which had laid off 27 faculty members for signing a petition for domestic peace, expressed that the effort to “deem marriages at ages Allah considered lawful as rape and wrecking happy homes” was the reason for the earthquake. I believe the curse of oppressed women and children will eventually take effect. But this person who is holding academic space at a university with the approbation of God-knows-who and who is at present a professor of “humanities and social sciences”, had written “the time is near” at the end of his tweet which he has deleted upon public reaction.
“The time is near” for what, exactly? A few years ago, in 2015, AKP MP Tülay Babuşçu, had likened the Republic of Turkey to a 90-year ad-break to the 600-year-long rule of the Ottoman Empire; probably because she was a novice and couldn’t bite her tongue. The statement of this timeserving professor who is still let teach at university shamelessly has reminded me of the MP’s case. Just as we’re three years short of celebrating the 100th anniversary of our republic and 4 years away from celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the sultanate and caliphate.
The Earthquake Tax had become mandatory in 2003 and the sum collected had reached 60 million liras in 2019. When Kerem Kınık, president of the Turkish Red Crescent, began asking for donations from the public literally when the aftershock tremors were going on, a row began around what has been done with the money besides pouring it onto the Housing Development Administration (TOKI) that only certain contractors have access to.
Cost of living and unemployment
Just this last week, the 300% increment to seasonal train tickets used by low-income citizens and students has generated a massive reaction; it was then elucidated in a way that suggests a discount of 15% had been taken back — which just feels like mockery. What’s more, though there is a surplus of electricity production, Turkish consumers have buy the most expensive electricity and natural gas in European markets. The inflation rate that people find hard to believe is slightly below 12% which President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also in charge of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) had successfully predicted earlier. But the natural gas prices had increased by 30% in 2019. Low-income people who use gas no more than a few hours a day to keep warm, especially at hours when kids get back from school, no longer hesitate to show their outrage at the gas bills during street interviews for TV. 100 thousand metal workers who demand more than an 8% raise to their salaries, suggested by the Employers Association of Metal Industries (MESS) have come forth in Bursa, the heart of the Turkish automotive industry. The Türk-İş worker’s union’s decision to go on strike was met with a lockout call by MESS; mass layoff threats. Türk-İş president Ergün Atalay wants the Erdoğan government not to ban the upcoming strike on February 5 with the pretext of “National Security”; he calls on the workers to show up to the February 5 demonstration in the Western industrial port of İzmit.
The government and the employers threaten the laborers with unemployment in a country where nearly 40% of workers work for the minimum wage of 2324 liras a month (around $400). We are in a situation where the Textile Industry Employers Syndicate’s (TTSIS) president, Ahmet Hamdi Topbaş, admitted in an interview with Cumhuriyet newspaper that half of the 2 million textile workers are currently working without proper social security— which means half of them are in illicit employment. The official youth unemployment rate is 25%, which was the rate in Spain and Greece in 2008 during their narrow escape from bankruptcy. An entry exam that the Istanbul Municipality opened to hire 293 people had 25 thousand applicants, all of whom were university graduates.
As the Turkish saying goes, an ember burns where it falls. And it looks like in this fire, the firefighters might even go as far as to ask for additional fees to put out the fire.
Cutting off the pillars
AKP’s founding members were in on the “cause”, to employ the preferred term of both Islamist and nationalist politicians; they were people who, in their way, went through some pains and had more or less represented the “cause” during their political journeys. Now, the founders are a minority within the party’s ruling ranks. They’ve been mostly replaced by people who had vehemently criticized AKP and Erdogan during the party’s early days. For example, Erdogan’s current number two within AKP, Numan Kurtulmuş used to be the chairman of the Islamist People’s Voice Party (HAS). And it’s no different in the cabinet. Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül is also among the HAS executives who have passed onto AKP. Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu, who is now probably the most popular minister among the AKP grassroots, used to be a major critic of Erdoğan and the AK Party when he was and executive in the center-right True Path Party (DYP) and then as the chairman the democrat Party (DP). Only two people who have been among the founders still remain at the top ranks of the government: President Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Binali Yıldırım, Erdoğan’s his foul-weather fellow, is still on hold to be nominated by Erdoğan for a new rank. Yıldırım had unwillingly stepped down as the Speaker of the Parliament to be shown as AKP’s mayor candidate for Istanbul Municipality, and had lost to social-democratic republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Ekrem İmamoğlu by a landslide during the repeat elections on June 23, 2019.
Many names that made AKP’s success are no longer there. Former President Abdullah Gül, who was one of the three pillars columns when the party was first founded, has opted out to become a member again is currently backing new party efforts of Ali Babacan, Erdoğan’s former economy captain who used to be the smiling face of the AKP in international economy and diplomacy platforms. Bülent Arınç, the third pillar, managed to get his son in on the MP list but whenever he dares to open his mouth, he gets scoffed at by some new members at his son’s age; he’s counting the days in some High Advisory Board that no one is sure what the use is. Ahmet Davutoğlu, who Erdoğan, in his time, trusted enough to leave his place to has already founded the Future Party (FP); he’s now on the bandwagon of those who did not or could not get any private gains from the party and who therefore decided to go their own way.
But there were other pillars helping Erdoğan to keep AKP carry the load. The votes of conservative Kurds, for example… Weren’t they among the masses who punished Erdoğan in the Istanbul re-elections on June 23, for treating Turkish nationalist MHP chairman Devlet Bahçeli not as a mere ally but as a partner? In his quest for finding loyalists, not for the “cause” but his person, Erdoğan ended up chaining himself to Bahçeli through his own “50% + 1 vote” election formula: could he ever be appealing to the Kurdish voters under such circumstances?
Not to mention the now penitent liberals who, at the time backed Erdoğan and AK Party, believing that it was the Kemalist principles (twisted by the military to justify the coups in the past) were the only obstaccles between Turkey and a better democracy.
The alliance strategy of the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Good Party (GP) leader Meral Akşener though, which proved success in the 2019 local elections could be noted as a factor increasing the burden weighing over Erdoğan’s AKP. And the calm await of the Kurdish-problem-focused People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) for the next ballot box should also be mentioned.
When we look at the current big picture, doesn’t it look like Erdoğan’s removal of the load-bearing columns and buttresses is weakening the structure from the inside, though the façade looks the same? Doesn’t it look like AKP’s collapse under its own weight is a possibility?