The ruling Justice end Party (AKP) will gather on March 24 its general assembly and party congress, a key event in terms of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s political future and its People’s Alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). According to political backstage information, Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli have discussed scheduling the MHP congresses for March 18, one week before the AKP congress. This is apparently a move of “political engineering” which also makes an impact on other fields such as the election code, law of political parties, or the debate on a new constitution. Still, as Erdoğan works hard for the AKP to remain monolithic, or homogeneous, it is no longer possible to hide the cracks within the party.
However, these cracks do not seem to be strong enough to shake a party like AKP, which has ruled the country for the past 20 years. But their nature is both political and ideological, and therefore they contradict Erdoğan’s dream of a rose garden without thorns.
Let’s talk discuss the cracks before moving on to the political engineering efforts.
The Berat Albayrak crack
When Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak resigned from his post as the Treasury and Finance Minister, it seemed that a burden was removed from the shoulders of not only the financial markets but also on the AKP members. Consequently, no one mentioned his name for a while. Then a narrow group within the AKP started saying that the opposition had made Albayrak the scapegoat to wear down Erdoğan. At this stage, we cannot exactly know exactly what role developments inside the family play a role. Still, we know that Erdoğan started discussing that Albayrak was very successful but he suffered from criticism just because he in his son-in-law.
This hampered the new economy administration’s plans to keep the value of the lira above 7 per USD (which went below 8.5 per USD during the Albayrak era) and increase foreign currency reserves but the outcome was not limited to that as it also triggered discomfort inside the party. Yet, a new debate began on the influence of Albayrak in the appointment of heads of official statistics institute TÜİK and the Wealth Fund of the country.
What is discussed is bringing Albayrak to the AKP administration or presidency rather than taking him”Felcitiy Party” back to the cabinet. The fact that such rumors rise from the AKP right before the congress point to an internal reaction. This adds to the “Felicity Party” effect.
Cracks on Felicity Party
Erdoğan took Bayram Şenocak from the AKP Istanbul chair from Bayram Şenocak and ensured the sole candidate, Osman Nuri, to be elected as the new provincial chair. Şenocak was among AKP figures accused of the party’s loss to main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Emrem İmamoğlu the mayor seat in 2019. However, Kabaktepe, his replacement, was Erdoğan’s friend from his youth at the “National Vision” movement of the former prime minister, late Necmettin Erbakan, and joined the AKP from Saadet Party, the continuation of Erbakan’s party only three years ago.
Days after that Erdoğan had a surprise meeting with Felicity Party’s Oğuzhan Asiltürk, yet another reason for discomfort inside the People’s Alliance. Felicity Party leader Temel Karamollaoğlu stated that Asiltürk did not have the authority to speak on behalf of the party, and then invited CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to the memorial program for Erbakan in reaction to the meeting.
On the other hand, the Felicity aims at the conservative vein of the AKP by opposing the Istanbul Convention against violence against women, despite contradicting the CHP. One can see the effects of such policy in recent remarks by Mehmet Boynukalın, the imam of Hagia Sophia that is reopened as a mosque, who said “the term women murders is a media propaganda slogan that aims at setting women against men” and Özlem Zengin, the AKP Parliament Group Deputy Chair, who opposed him.
Cracks about women’s rights
The recent debate arouse from cases of violence against women, including murder. On reports that one İbrahim Zarap beat up his former wife behind their child, AKP lawmaker Rümeysa Kadak called for speaking up against it. The crack became more visible when Hülya Atçı Nergis, another AKP lawmaker, said “More men than women are murdered”, became visible. However, it is known that first lady Emine Erdoğan openly expressed her discomfort with the murders of women.
Then came imam Boynukalın’s chain of tweets on femicides. Boynukalın had earlier called for the name of Islam to be put in the Constitution and his emphasis that the “leader of the family is men.”
The AKP’s Özlem Zengin replied that “everybody should do their own work.” The climax of the campaign against the “feminists inside the AKP” came when Fatih İstiklal Emre of Istanbul’s 2nd Bar Association, a new bar close to the AKP, tweeted “Sister, we are tired of you. You do not represent Muslims.”
As the AKP became open to the influence of cults and religious communities the place of women in politics became to be debated ahead of the party congress.
Erdoğan wants to complete a serious restructuring of the party, which started when he was elected the president in 2014, with the accelerated provincial and district congresses despite the pandemic as of March 24. Will this transformation result in the AKP becoming a “leader’s party” not a “party of a cause”? More precisely, is the case of the AKP turning into being the leader itself?
Despite Erdoğan’s charisma and political power, which are rare in Turkish politics, it does not seem easy for him to turn the federative structure of his party, which has been formed in the past two decades in power, into a unitary, monolithic and homogeneous one.
Especially at a time when cracks are now more visible. Erdoğan used to get more votes from women when he broke election records. It is difficult to achieve the same levels of votes with this open misogynist rhetoric and a cult discourse that increasingly alienates right-wing seculars and left-wing liberals. Besides, all these come at a time when the CHP and IYI Party establishes ties with the urban poors thanks to the municipalities won by their members in the 2019 local elections
These reasons for Erdoğan’s recent political engineering did not benefit late presidents Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel or late prime minister Bülent Ecevit.
New Constitution, new election law
Erdoğan’s new Constitutional move was damaged by the MHP‘s campaign launched against İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener and her response to the AKP’s election partner.
The tactics required to find the 22 parliamentary votes to take a constitutional amendment to a referendum are the reminiscence of those implemented in the 1970s or mid-1990s.
The election law change that Erodğan tries to convince Bahçeli is similar to the one brought forward by then-prime minister Turgut Özal to keep his Motherland Party (ANAP) in power.
The argument is that if the election threshold is taken down to 7 percent from the current 10 percent, the Peoples’ Democratic Party and İYİ Party will get fewer votes, raising expectations for more votes for the AKP and the MHP. It is said that the MHP could agree to that but it is distant from the idea of a “narrowed zone” election system, fearing that this could give the Kurdish and Sharia parties an advantage. However, it is said, that the AKP needs such a change in order to prevent the main opposition CHP from winning more seats in parliament.
And all these are in a bid to protect the 50 pct + 1 vote system that has already strained the politics and the economy to their limits.