KARACHI: A talk on Turkey and the rise and fall of the country’s ruling party over the past decade, the Adalet ve Kalknma Partisi (AKP), was held on Thursday at Karachi University’s Area Study Centre for Europe, where Dr Hamit Bozarslan, director of studies at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), spoke on ‘Political Crisis in Turkey and Euro-Turkish Relations’.
Dr Bozarslan explored the factors that contributed to both the rise of the AKP and its eventual decline in popularity. According to the academic, the AKP gained power in Turkey in 2002 as “an outcome of the process of deradicalisation throughout the Middle East”. And while the AKP had initially positioned itself as a party of change, “they abandoned any kind of revolutionary programme and [became] neoliberal”.
Dr Bozarslan said another reason behind the AKP’s gain in political power was the formation of the ‘new bourgeoisie’ that replaced the ‘dominant bourgeoisie’ who were “the Istanbul bourgeoisie 20 to 30 years ago”. The new elite, he said, were neoliberal in their approach in many ways and declared charity as the best way to “resolve poverty”. He stated that “the state transferred money from public funds to this new bourgeoisie. Poverty was [treated] not as a political or social issue but [something to be solved] through charity, medical service, food, energy distribution, schools, and selective weddings were all funded by [this new elite].”
However, the recent election in July which saw the AKP lose its majority in parliament has been seen by many as mounting evidence of the ruling party’s declining popularity.
According to the EHESS director, this has to do with the “process of re-radicalisation that took place” within the party, the public’s disillusion with the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and corruption scandals plaguing the ruling party. The fallout between Erdogan and the politically well-connected cleric Fethullah Gülen has also contributed to the president’s political troubles. Erdogan’s push for executive powers as president (which aren’t allowed under the country’s constitution), and the construction of a new palace, rumoured to cost half a billion euros and having about 1,000 rooms, has plunged the president further into scandal. As a result, Dr Bozarslan insisted, the Turkish electorate had abandoned AKP and “many Sunni Turks who previously supported Erdogan, no longer do”.
In addition, the academic pointed out that the more moderate elements within AKP had been marginalised. “The first generation of the AKP, including Abdullah Gül, has been totally eliminated. They want a stable country, integration into Europe, and they want to resolve the Kurdish problem — for them Turkey should become a model,” Dr Bozarslan stated.
He argued that the only political elite that could have countered the AKP’s rising power, the army, had declined in popularity and no longer attracted mass public support.
He said that “one of the reasons the army has lost its prestige is because many generals have been arrested and [the army] could no longer generate a social basis [of public support]. They retired and decided not to speak out. Gradually all the checks and balances have been removed.” However, the academic was quick to point out that it was “very important that the army shouldn’t come back”.
The EHESS director also emphasised that many of Turkey’s policies had added to Turkey’s political ‘isolation’ and sometimes made things worse domestically. Dr Bozarslan said the AKP had “more or less supported Daesh” resulting in Turkey becoming “the highway for jihadis”. However, this policy resulted in ‘blowback’ and “Daesh was able to bring the war back to Turkey”. As the academic put it succinctly, “along with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Turkey has played a very unpleasant role in the Middle East”.
Similarly, the AKP’s ambitions to make Turkey into a “foreign hegemonic power” never materialised. The AKP’s coalition with “conservative parties of Eastern origins” such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Libya, and Tunisia’s Ennahda faltered when the Muslim Brotherhood lost power in Egypt, Ennahda lost the elections in Tunisia and Libya descended into civil war.
The turmoil in the Middle East has not only resulted in Turkey losing many of its key allies internationally, it has the potential to cause further instability domestically. He said the future was up for speculation as the “Middle East is disintegrating” and while Turkey was at present hosting two million refugees, “maybe tomorrow [it will be] hosting five million to six million refugees”.
Dr Bozarslan also talked about Euro-Turkish relations, and how Turkey could be ‘integrated’ into Europe. He argued that Europe was not a “solution to the Turkish turmoil” and that “Europe is extremely ‘tired’ of the Middle East and the Muslim world [and] did not understand why rationality had vanished from Turkey”. The way forward, he said, was for Turkey to produce a “stabilised state” and show “her willingness to become part of Europe”.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2015