The Economic Policies of Syriza and AK Party

Syriza is a loose coalition of numerous radical leftist movements whereas the AK Party has been a strong and unified political movement constructed around Erdoğan's leadership.

During Greece’s struggle to get out of the acute macroeconomic mayhem brought by the global financial crisis, the bulk of political commentators predicted that socio-economic deprivation would strengthen the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party and trigger a neo-fascist moment in Turkey’s uneasy neighbor. But as industrial nations of Western Europe fell into the abyss of desperation through xenophobia and Islamophobia via movements like Germany’s Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) after the crisis, Greece turned into an unorthodox and populist anti-status quo option with the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza).

A political economy analysis into the respective rises to power of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Turkey and Syriza in Greece may reveal crucial similarities as well as profound differences in terms of unique transformation trajectories of Greece and Turkey. As stressed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in his recent visit to Athens, both the AK Party and Syriza came to political prominence by raising anti-status quo, progressive arguments at a time when conventional political parties from the center-right and center-left of the political spectrum lost voter confidence. The AK Party’s ascendancy to power occurred in a politico-economic milieu in which established political parties were discredited by the electorate following the twin crises in 2000 and 2001. What Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party promised through clean governance, prudent macroeconomic policies, fiscal discipline, international integration and rapid growth caught the public’s imagination.

Moreover, the AK Party’s anti-status quo politics meant opposing the monolithic Kemalist definition of the state as the vanguard of authoritarian modernization expanding the social rights of devout Muslims including women wearing headscarves, as well as religious minorities and integrating Kurds and Alevis into the public sphere as equal citizens of a pluralistic society. Being an anti-status quo party also meant eliminating the military and bureaucratic, judicial and business-related sources of tutelage of Turkish politics while following a more autonomous and balanced foreign policy toward the West and the rest. It was the virtuous mix of successful macroeconomic and municipal management, strong local organization and preservation of the anti-status quo stance to further democratization that kept the AK Party in power for over a decade.

The conditions that precipitated Syriza’s rise to power in Greece during and after the global financial crisis were similar. Greece’s new prime minister and leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, formed a grand coalition by challenging the status quo parties from the center-right and center-left that were discredited by the public for being corrupt and trying to take advantage of European rescue funds. He also challenged the nationalistic bureaucratic-judicial elite core oppressing religious minorities and low income groups, the Orthodox Church that provides legitimacy to the political mechanism and the EU, which is seen as a major cause of the country’s troubles. Tsipras, like Erdoğan, is an exceptional orator and very popular leader who could be expected to push for a long tenure in office. He also wants to follow a balanced and autonomous foreign policy, the signs of which came with his refusal to sign the damning EU statement on Russia, his opposition to autocratic leaders in the Middle East and support for greater freedoms for religious minorities in Greece.

But the similarities between the AK Party and Syriza must end here. Syriza is a loose coalition of numerous radical leftist movements whereas the AK Party has been a strong and unified political movement constructed around Erdoğan’s leadership. The AK Party stayed loyal to the International Monetary Fund program in the early 2000s in the name of stability whereas Syriza bases its whole economic story on populist redistribution schemes, deletion of the heavy debt burden to the EU and nationaliz

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