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Who will come to power in Turkey after Erdogan’s AKP?

Who will come to power after the AKP? The Turkish society comprises of 65-70% conservative, religious, nationalist, and voter base that prioritizes religious values. Although this percentage may vary by 5-10% depending on time and circumstances, right-wing votes account for two-thirds of the total electorate.

In Turkey, the left-wing has never been able to form a government on its own except during the Single-Party Period. This is because there has never been a genuine left-wing in Turkey. The mainstream left parties, which are expected to be in favor of the oppressed, workers, minority rights, and freedoms, have always sided with the state when there were conflicts between the individual and the state, the people and the state, and rights and laws. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which bears the name “People’s Party,” fell into the concern of protecting the regime from the people. The main reason for the alienation of the left from the people in Turkey is the repressive, transformative, and value-disregarding policies implemented by the CHP during the Single-Party period. Although the CHP is considered the center-left party of Turkish politics and occasionally makes concessions and attempts to reconcile with the beliefs and values of the people, it cannot succeed in making this permanent.

This is because within the CHP, there is a segment that I refer to as the “Arrogant Kemalists!” They see themselves as the “owners” of the state, “superior,” and “different.” They try to educate those who think differently and derogate the broad masses of people as “ignorant,” “fanatic,” and “apostate,” displaying racist and statist tendencies. This segment has always hindered the CHP from becoming a genuine left-wing party. Therefore, the Turkish society has not been able to experience democratic leftism. When people think of the left, they associate it with the practices of the Single-Party era, Republic rallies, and exaggerated Kemalist rituals. However, if the people had witnessed a western-style left party and government, their perspective would have changed.

When extremist and far-left movements’ acts of terrorism and violence are added to the account of the left, the perception of the left becomes even more problematic in the minds of the people. Bülent Ecevit was able to change this perception to some extent. He partially succeeded in making the CHP a truly populist and inclusive party. He received the reward for this in the period before 1980 and in the final stages of his political career when he held power. However, despite Ecevit’s positive image, the people did not grant the CHP sole power. We can also say that Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to attract votes from a wide range of people, similar to Ecevit.

The people have grown tired of Erdoğan. The economy has collapsed, society is divided, justice has been compromised, unemployment has skyrocketed, and our currency has depreciated. Everyone agrees that the country is heading in the wrong direction. However, when it comes to the ballot box, people are not making the move to overthrow the AKP. I am not saying that Erdoğan won the last elections fairly and deservedly. Erdoğan employed all kinds of manipulation and used the elections as a means to legitimize his power. He is a highly skilled and unprincipled political trickster. He has ruined many politicians just to prevent them from becoming his rivals or alternatives, and he has drawn many others to his side by using public resources. But despite everything, Turkey was excited and hopeful about changing Erdoğan. In fact, the voters did their part. They turned out to vote in one of the highest turnouts. Even if you disregard the unjust electoral process, manipulations, and ballot fraud, 48% of the people clearly said, “Erdoğan must go!” The AKP received one of its lowest vote shares. It is experiencing one of its weakest periods in terms of parliamentary arithmetic.

The people want Erdoğan to go, but they haven’t been able to find a party and candidate they can trust and support with confidence. Despite Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP demonstrating quite successful performances, there is a significant segment within the conservative base that perceives voting for a left-wing party as a “sin” or “apostasy” due to their conservative beliefs. In addition to Erdoğan’s divisive and polarizing rhetoric, the concerns have been reinforced by statements and writings from individuals within the CHP who are known to be Kemalists. This has made the conservative voters uneasy.

Erdoğan’s attempts to manipulate and push the boundaries to win elections cannot cover up the demand for change among the people. Nevertheless, there is a deep and strong sense of unease. However, the conservative majority, which constitutes around 65%, has not been able to find a candidate they can trust and a party they can support without reservations. If a reliable and strong centrist right-wing movement emerges, the conservative base will use its will for change. Many leftists and secularists underestimate the religious and conservative majority, but they could easily gravitate towards a party that does not engage in a conflict with religion and promises democracy, rule of law, market economy, and human rights. After witnessing the exploitations by the AKP, I believe that many religious individuals will embrace an inclusive understanding of secularism, similar to the Anglo-Saxon model. The İYİ Party, under the leadership of Meral Akşener, was on the path to becoming such a party appealing to the center-right and was continuously gaining momentum. However, instead of moving towards the center, Akşener turned to a nationalist discourse and filled the party with too many nationalists and supporters of the Ergenekon trials. It almost attempted to become a derivative of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). As a result, the party’s vote share reached a plateau.

Throughout our political history, right-wing governments have often been overthrown by other right-wing governments, and the weakened right-wing parties have been replaced by center-right parties. The Democratic Party was shut down, and it was replaced by the Justice Party. When the Justice Party was closed down during the 1980 coup, it was replaced by ANAP, which advocated conservative, democratic, and liberal values and came to power. As ANAP became worn out, it was replaced by the True Path Party (DYP), which took over the government. During the February 28th process, when the center-right parties surrendered to the status quo, the people punished them. ANAP and DYP turned into mere shell parties and ended up in the political graveyard. After the authoritarian approach of the February 28th period, the void in the center-right was filled by the AKP, which claimed to have changed its shirt while still rooted in the Islamist tradition and promised to bring liberal democracy, the rule of law, freedoms, and fight against corruption, restrictions, and poverty.

After ten years, the AKP also became tainted and worn out. The heavily corrupted and authoritarian AKP is not staying in power through natural and democratic means. In fact, the people took power away from the AKP in June 2015. However, Bahçeli and Baykal came to the rescue and became crutches for the AKP. Through a strategy of chaos, the people were frightened, and the AKP regained power through artificial methods. The AKP and Erdoğan have been usurping power for a decade. A strong and trustworthy formation established in the center-right would cut Erdoğan’s ticket. The significant development of the merger between the Deva Party and the Future Party to form a parliamentary group is important, but it is not enough. It is necessary to create a stronger alternative.

It is becoming evident that Erdogan’s health will not be sufficient to continue this period. Even now, Erdogan is struggling to stand and is visibly unstable. There are two paths for the AKP after Erdogan:

  1. Returning to democracy and the rule of law, transforming into a democratic center-right party.
  2. Turning into a mere shell party like ANAP and DYP.

It is not easy for the current AKP, which has become highly tainted and involved in numerous crimes, to return to the rule of law. After Erdogan, the continuation of the same system will not be possible. In such a situation, either the AKP will transform itself, or if there are any decent politicians left within the AKP, they will turn to the strongest and most trustworthy center-right party. Despite Erdogan and the AKP appearing to have won recent elections and appearing strong, they are playing on borrowed time. The void that will be created will not be filled by a left-wing party but rather by another center-right party.

Turkish version of this article first published at TR724.com

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Mahmut Akpinar
Mahmut Akpinar
Dr. Mahmut Akpinar is a political scientist focusing on international relations and Turkish politics.

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