SETA Istanbul Coordinator Fahrettin Altun: AK Party’s manifesto reveals the creed of domestic and national politics

Erdoğan's party manifesto is a turning point for the AK Party's vision, which is adjusting to the country's needs and regional and global changes, according to SETA Istanbul General Coordinator Altun

Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) Istanbul General Coordinator professor Fahrettin Altun evaluated the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) manifesto that was announced last week by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Altun stated that the AK Party deemed the manifesto necessary in order to clearly convey what has changed both in Turkey and all around the globe in the past 16 years, since AK Party’s rise to power in 2002.

Expressing that the AK Party used to emphasize more on being a democratic conservative party in the mid-2000s, but is now making policies with its own strain of conservatism, Altun asserted that “domestic and national politics have become the alias of Turkey’s democratization process in the international arena.”

He added that this was formulized by Erdoğan and that the manifesto “reveals the creed of domestic and national politics.”

Meanwhile he said that the country’s bid to become a global power is underscored in the manifesto and described Turkey’s current foreign policy approach as non-conflictual toward regional and global actors. He deems this necessary for the country’s transformation into a global power.

Daily Sabah: The AK Party had first entered the political arena with a significant manifesto in 2002. Why has the party felt the need for a new manifesto after 16 years?

Fahrettin Altun: This is an important question; the AK Party has been in power since 2002 and has made strides in the past 16 years with a rather consistent road map for democratization with a conservative identity. On the other hand, Erdoğan was at the helm of the party since the beginning with the exception of three years between 2014 and 2017. Even though Erdoğan had symbolic power over the party, we can consider this time period a gap.

Nevertheless, AK Party’s new manifesto has been announced by Erdoğan after 16 years. The reason is change; today’s world isn’t the same with 2002. Similarly, our region has changed substantially since 2002. In this respect, the AK Party and Erdoğan deemed it necessary to announce a new manifesto that reveals how they have read these changes. Erdoğan had expressed that they would be announcing a new manifesto after the snap election was disclosed.

This manifesto was announced last Sunday; it expresses the AK Party’s reaction to this worldwide change and the party’s perspective toward foreign policy, domestic policy, economy, culture, society, state and individual. There are two keywords, in my opinion: change and continuity. Meanwhile, it allowed the party to reiterate its constants like growth, freedom and democracy. Since its conception, the AK Party always focused on justice and development while the aforementioned concepts are the manifestation of this focus.

DS: What are some of the specific factors that triggered changes in the manifesto?

FA: Erdoğan analyzed the current situation in Turkey, the region and the world. He has seen that we’re living in a world of uncertainties. It’s no longer the 1990s during which the U.S. was seen as the absolute and unshakable ruler of the world. The dream of globalization present during the early 2000s is no longer valid. The AK Party’s 2002 manifesto was expressing that the world was becoming increasingly global and liberal and that Turkey would do its best to be a part of this world. Some 16 years later, Erdoğan sees that this unifying message of globalization no longer applies to the situation. Nation states have become increasingly fierce; they are emphasizing security policies as countries are facing separatist and/or terrorist threats.

On the other hand, racism is on the rise. In such an environment in which conflicts are becoming fiercer and is thought to become even fiercer in the future, you can’t expect the AK Party to maintain the overly optimistic 2002 manifesto. Today, Turkey is facing fatal threats. This is what we see in retrospect.

We used to believe that there would no longer be conflicts between regional and global actors in those years. Now, it’s almost the fate of countries to clash. Taking the U.S.-China, U.S.-Russia, Russia-Europe and China-Russia rivalries into consideration and that these rivalries are shaking our region to its core, Turkey inevitably had to reposition itself accordingly. In this respect, AK Party was obliged to revise its own policies and establish these policies framework. We are no longer living in the early 2000s; the region is not the same.

In 2002, the U.S.’s intervention to Iraq was still being discussed; then, a year or so later the U.S. deployed its own troops to establish its own order and to proclaim that it’s present in the Middle East. Even though Turkey wasn’t sympathetic toward this invasion, it made estimations and calculations about the order that was to be established along with other possible scenarios about how Turkey’s relations with the Middle East would be in the case the U.S. paid the price for its actions. In short, it was the early 2000s and Turkey positioned itself taking the U.S. presence in the region into consideration. However, the irresponsibly expanding U.S. retreated with a similar manner of recklessness and Iraq devolved into chaos.

The chaos conceived in Iraq started to spread to other parts of the region. In 2010, Turkey was shown as an important role model during the events later dubbed as the Arab Spring which was seemingly a wave of democratization. This process became reversed a short time after that. Considering these developments, AK Party couldn’t maintain the 2010s Middle East policy today. The Arab Spring turned into the Arab Winter and Turkey was deeply affected by this change. The most obvious example is the Syrian crisis. It hurt Turkey the most after Syria; Turkey started to face more serious threats from terrorist organizations like Daesh and PKK. These threats increased exponentially. PKK was transformed, while Daesh became a tremendous threat.

On the other hand, taking advantage of the crisis, [the Gülenist Terror Group] FETÖ sped up its manipulative regional and international operations. We shouldn’t forget the refugee crisis as well. All of these caused Turkey to revise its regional policies and forced Turkey to resort to hard power more frequently.

DS: The AK Party’s manifesto focuses on the discourse ‘domestic and national politics’ regarding Turkey repositioning itself in the international arena. Could you elaborate on the repositioning part of the manifesto?

FA: We could say that the manifesto reveals the creed of domestic and national politics. As I have said before, the manifesto has two facets: variables and constants. The interesting part is that the text referred to the speech Erdoğan made when he got out of prison on July 24 1999, if I’m not mistaken. In this respect, Erdoğan demonstrated that the domestic and national politics has always been a part of the political movement he spearheads.

On the other hand, Turkey was attempting to eliminate the tutelage system and the world was a different place. What has been done since 2002 was actually a quest for democratization in domestic politics and autonomy in Turkish foreign policy. While these processes were going on, Turkey chose to be open to the outside world; making policies with a national identity and according to national interests became key. We could argue that the understanding of domestic and national politics has become more apparent as the world started to change. AK Party was more focused on a conservative democracy in the mid-2000s.

However, as AK Party itself and all other political parties are now able to discuss policies with their own identities, this focus became irrelevant. The signifiers of this discourse are non-existent now as it has become politically invalid. Meanwhile, conservatives are now able to make policies according to their own political identity; they no longer have to conceal it with another discourse.

The domestic and national politics have become the alias of Turkey’s democratization process in the international arena. Erdoğan formalized this discourse. Turkey has shown that it could divert from soft power and resort to hard power when necessary; this was demonstrated in Syrian crisis. This new era is different than the previous in terms of employment of hard power policies.

For this reason, the manifesto underscores the investments made to the Turkish military industry and expresses that these investments will be multiplied. This indicates that Turkey will continue to use hard power when it’s deemed necessary and will eliminate threats as the country was able to thwart the terror corridor project. All of this is actually about Turkey becoming an active regional power. Turkey’s next goal is to become a global power.

DS: So, the AK Party’s manifesto is replacing the discourse of conservative democracy with domestic and national politics?

FA: I believe Erdoğan is a political actor who heralds a new era with his formulations. The discourse of domestic and national politics is also a grassroots movement. Erdoğan asserted that Turkey has been going through three different eras: foundation, revival and ascent.

In this respect, many discourses such as the conservative democracy were a part of the revival era. Domestic and national politics is only possible in a strong democratic country with a strong leadership. It’s about the institutionalization of political power. Therefore, the newly implemented presidential system is the warrant of the said politics in Turkey.

When talking about transitioning from the foundation era to the ascent, Erdoğan underscored a very important process. He expressed Turkey was mentally and ideologically transformed and that the next step was institutional transformation. This statement itself is the indicator that we’re entering a new era whose main aspect is domestic and national politics. I should underline that this new strain of politics didn’t emerge as a result of AK Party’s increasing convergence with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

President Erdoğan referring to his speech made 19 years ago is a clever strategy; it indicates that there are several variables in a sequence of constants. Moreover, he asserts that Turkey has eliminated the tutelage system and is free of burdens. While there are other struggles, the time has come to construct a new future. Therefore, we can assume that in this new construction era the domestic and national politics will be actionary rather than reactionary.

DS: How will the international community react to Turkey’s bid for becoming a global power while maintaining domestic and national politics?

FA: Having domestic and national politics doesn’t mean you’re withdrawing from international politics. This is highlighted by President Erdoğan in the manifesto. In a world where protectionism has become dominant, the Turkish economy will continue to be competitive and open. Addressing investors, Erdoğan expressed that any investment made is under the warrant of the state. The most important issue for Turkey is to pursue its own interests and policies.

Establishing order, thwarting threats and turning losses into profits are some of the common features of global actors. Turkey wants to achieve this. For this reason, Turkey seeks consolidation with global actors rather than conflict. The most prominent aspect of the Turkish foreign policy is avoiding conflicts with legitimate regional and global actors. This non-conflictual approach allows Turkey gain power that is necessary in order to become a global actor.

Becoming a global actor requires the establishment of an identity. This process should be different than the one in Europe where racist notions are on the rise. Despite over 3.5 million refugees in Turkey, racism doesn’t exist in the public sphere.

Meanwhile, there is a consensus on Turkey establishing its own order in the region. Public’s demands are formulated as domestic and national politics by the chief executives and they are demanding Turkey to become a global actor. Usually, our Western friends believe that Erdoğan himself initiates and ends all processes out of his own ambitions. This isn’t the case; Erdoğan is able to do all he does because he’s a strong and legitimate representative of the public. If the public had not demanded this transformation, Erdoğan wouldn’t be able to take these steps and stay in power for this long.

DS: How will the public receive domestic policies in the manifesto, especially those pertaining to freedom, justice and security?

FA: We will have the answer on June 24, the day of elections. Polls and researches may give us insight about how the public receives these aspects. Meanwhile, we should take the factors which oblige Erdoğan to make certain statements into consideration. Turkey has been going through a democratization and normalization process since 2002; however, this process wasn’t uncontested. Council of State attack in 2006, the presidential crisis in 2007, the AK Party closure trial and the Gezi Insurrection were attempts to derail Turkey from its tracks. If this wasn’t the reality, Erdoğan wouldn’t emphasize such issues in the manifesto. Yet, these attempts were the reality.

As Turkey’s very survival was at hand, the security policies of today were implemented. Unfortunately, there were further attempts since 2013 to slander Turkey. On July 15 2016, Turkey thwarted a coup. Turkey was able to counter a coup that was well-organized and sophisticated.

After the coup attempt, Turkey started to take steps to eliminate terrorist threats within the legal framework. The country started to fight simultaneously against the PKK, Daesh and FETÖ. State of emergency, which is a legitimate and democratic mechanism, was employed to be more efficient against the aforementioned terrorist organizations. Turkey employed the state of emergency without hindering its people in their everyday lives. As Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has expressed, the state of emergency was implemented over the state, not the people. Certain circles united against the process of cleansing state institutions from terrorist elements. They alleged that it was anti-democratic and that it was limiting individual freedoms. Meanwhile, it was actually terrorism, coup attempt and insurrections on streets which limited people’s freedoms in Turkey.

When October 6-8 incidents occurred with the excuse of Daesh’s attack on Kobane, Turkey lost 50 of it citizens, all of them civilians. This is a limitation of freedoms. On the other hand, FETÖ wiretapped and blackmailed all of its opponents, infringing on their private lives. This is a limitation of freedoms. Terrorists carried out bomb attacks in cities. This is a limitation of freedoms. Those terrorized with these bombings were unable to participate in the public sphere and this is a limitation of freedoms. With Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey started to cleanse the public sphere from these threats to ensure all these rights and freedoms.

With the manifesto, Erdoğan has once again asserted how he will address these smear campaigns by expressing his perspective on freedoms and justice. More freedoms and more justice are what he foresees. I believe this is very important as it is an attempt to thwart the propaganda of terrorist organizations. I believe the manifesto will have a positive reception.

DS: How would you summarize the manifesto in one sentence?

FA: I believe it’s almost impossible to summarize it in one sentence as it’s a complicated and multilayered text. I prefer naming the manifesto as the Istanbul Manifesto as I believe it’s a foundational text. It has many aspects and facets that should be referred to. Erdoğan’s opponents are focusing on certain parts of the manifest, but there is more to it. Nevertheless, I can say that small variables in a sequence of constants are at its base. This is what I see.

DS: Will we see the reflections of this manifesto in the AK Party’s party program that is to be announced in the following days?

FA: Surely, they will be complementary. I believe the party program will be the annotated version of the manifesto. Erdoğan made certain promises like tripling the economy; how these promises are to be realized will be detailed in the party program. The AK Party has a tradition of realizing its promises and turning them into policies. This will also be the case for this specific party program. The manifesto doubles as a framework and a road map. Therefore, the party program will be the more comprehensive version of the manifesto.

[Daily Sabah, 14 May 2018, Interview by Nur Özkan Erbay]

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