“What will happen to the AKP after Erdoğan? The question has started to be asked by foreign political observers and investors watching Turkey mainly because of two reasons.
One of these two reasons is the chronic loss of votes of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its “People Alliance” partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). That has been the case since the local elections of 2019. Then the AKP lost the mayorships of most of the major cities, İstanbul and Ankara, in particular to the center-left main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its “Nation Alliance” partner, the center-right Good Party (İYİ).
The opposition urges the government for early elections, and naturally, foreign observers are also curious about that. But it is not the only topic of interest. If the Presidential and parliamentary) elections are to take place in June 2023 as scheduled, and if Erdoğan thinks he is not going to keep his chair, could he try not to have elections? The constitution (Article 78) says the elections can be postponed for a year in case of a war. Not very likely, but that is among the topics of interest.
The second reason is, as can be expected, the recent rumors and speculations about the health of the President.
Is there an alternative to Erdoğan in the AKP?
And, who will take over if Erdoğan leaves the AKP, and what will happen to the party after him?
Additionally, Western sources also are curious about whether there are opposition wings within the AKP.
I think the curiosity of Western observers is coming from their own assumptions, such as “moderate opposition” in Iran and “moderate Islam” in the Middle East, play a role in asking such questions. If an opposition wing emerges in the AKP and starts to speak, their hypothesis will prove right. Perhaps they think that Erdoğan will thus be forced to shift to a political line that is more at peace with the outside world. With all due respect, this is not much different than arguing about the gender of angels.
An institutional party or a political movement?
There are no such opposition wings in AKP, as far as I can see. After prominent names conflict with Erdoğan, they either vanished from political life or are ousted from the party ranks like Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç, despite being two other pillars of the triumvirate, or they go and choose another political path for themselves. Abdüllatif Şener, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ali Babacan could be given as examples for them. Indeed, the stars of names such as the National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu are rising. There are also two influential names such as Binali Yıldırım and Numan Kurtulmuş as Erdoğan’s deputies in the party. But there is no indication that they can hold the AKP together if they become an alternative to Erdoğan or if Erdoğan leaves the leadership.
The AKP probably lost its chance to come of age as a political party under Turkish conditions in 2014. After the end of Gül’s presidency, Erdoğan used Davutoğlu to block Gül from returning to -possibly cahir- the party, then used Yıldırım to oust Davutoğlu. The AKP turned into a political movement with a strong leader cult. Then with the support of the MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, Erdoğan abolished the prime ministry position (who was also the party chair) to merge the party and the state.
Currently, after 19 years in power, the AKP resembles a political movement that is likely to start declining after the leader leaves, rather than an institutional political party that can continue on the same path after its leader is gone. For example, despite running the government for some time, the Motherland Party (ANAP) and Democratic Left Party (DSP) have faded out after their leaders, respectively Turgut Özal and Bülent Ecevit, no longer lead. We can give two examples that have proven their maturity (repeatedly) as a political party, the CHP and the MHP.
It may sound too ambitious to say this, but if Erdoğan leaves, it seems inevitable that the star of the AKP will fade no matter who else will lead after him.