President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets his supporters during a rally ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, in Ankara, Türkiye, April 30, 2023. (Reuters Photo)

22 years of AK Party and Turkish opposition’s quests

Established to tackle the political and economic crises of the 1990s, the AK Party encountered many challenges. It opted for what was possible and rational as opposed to ideology to skillfully analyze the future of world politics.

Monday marked the 22nd anniversary of the establishment of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Coming to power just 14 months after its formation, the movement has a unique history that does not compare to any Turkish political party.

Established to tackle the political and economic crises of the 1990s, the AK Party encountered many challenges. It opted for what was possible and rational as opposed to ideology to skillfully analyze the future of world politics.

Having fought military tutelage at home to uphold the nation’s will, the movement proved that politicians could thwart military coups and bring their perpetrators to justice. It demonstrated that elected officials were capable of making the most critical decisions, including the adoption of a new system of government, to alter the country’s course.

The AK Party also pursued an autonomous foreign policy in an attempt to elevate Türkiye’s international status. It criticized the international system in the name of justice and risked tensions when Turkish interests were at stake.

That exceptional story was made possible by the contributions of countless people and the nation’s unwavering support. Undoubtedly, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s performance, leadership and ability to mobilize the Turkish people at critical junctures have been a driving force behind the AK Party’s success.

IP’s limited capacity for robust stance

As the AK Party starts campaigning for next year’s municipal elections, the opposition parties remain preoccupied with their pursuit of change. The only movement that did not experience a serious leadership crisis following the May 2023 elections, the Good Party (IP), wants to bounce back more quickly than any other opposition party.

Specifically, the party seeks to “make an important start in Turkish politics” in IP Chair Meral Akşener’s Aug. 26 address.

It is no secret that the IP has been going back and forth between nationalism and center-right politics since its establishment. Ahead of the May 2023 elections, the party joined the pro-opposition Nation Alliance and faced serious problems over the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) endorsement of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

In the end, Akşener’s movement barely received 10% of the vote.

At the end of the day, the IP chair was forced to endorse a presidential candidate, briefly left the alliance and admitted that she was compelled to bandwagon.

It is extremely difficult for the IP to develop a brand new political approach that will resolve the ideological and political crisis that all opposition parties, including itself, face today.

The main obstacle before any attempt by the IP to craft a new approach and discourse is that the movement was built on ideological fault lines. In other words, it stands to lose whichever direction it takes: Surrounded by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as well as the CHP, the IP has little room to adopt a strong position.

The AK Party and its leader, President Erdoğan, dominate the center-right in such a way that the IP has no choice but to explore the far right – where the Victory Party (ZP) has been winning over voters.

The CHP, in turn, finds it easier to appeal to Kemalist-secularist voters than the IP.

Another important point is that the “table for six” hurt the interests of all of its members including the IP.

Alliance harmed CHP the most

It goes without saying that the alliance hurt the CHP more than the rest. The main opposition leader currently faces the accusation that he handed over parliamentary seats to “parasites.” That sentiment arguably alienated the right-wing fringe parties that were part of the alliance.

Meanwhile, the dust continues to settle at the CHP, where the debate over party congresses and the leadership battle rages on. As time passes, it plays into Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s hand and makes it more likely for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu to lose his seat.

Ignore Kılıçdaroğlu’s praises for the “table for six.” That alliance hurt all its members before and since the May 2023 elections so severely that none of them will be able to shake off its negative impact easily. It won’t be easy for them to earn the people’s trust.

All the opposition parties are taking stock of what happened – whether publicly or in secret. They have no choice but to look for something new to overcome the sense of hopelessness and rage that plagues their respective bases. Yet they cannot even reinstate the “table for six” agreement on common policies.

Last but not least, the opposition refused to confront Kılıçdaroğlu’s far-right discourse ahead of the presidential election’s second round. Indeed, hardly anyone would be surprised to see opposition candidates voice extreme views on Syrian asylum-seekers, illegal migration and xenophobia for next year’s municipal elections.

[Daily Sabah, August 17, 2023]

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