If there is one thing about Turkish politics that everybody can agree on, it is that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has changed the way the country's political parties do business. The party took the game to the next level in the early 2000s and proceeded to win nine consecutive elections with relative ease. On June 7, the AK Party will presumably clinch another four years in power to become the longest-ruling party since multi-party elections were introduced in 1946. What distinguished the upcoming parliamentary election from previous contests is that the opposition parties are slowly (but surely) mastering the art of campaigning.
Here's a great example: Last week, the Republican People's Party (CHP) unveiled their latest election pledge, dubbed the "project of the century" by the party leadership, to build a mega city in Anatolia. The $160 billion "Central Turkey" project, which is expected to create 2.2 million jobs within the next 20 years, was developed to "transform Turkey into a global port," CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said on Thursday. Although the precise location of Turkey's next mega-city appears to be a secret, it was important that the party was able to give voters something to think about before casting their votes.
To put things in perspective, the most memorable aspect of the secularist opposition's 2007 campaign was a TV ad asking voters whether they were "aware of the danger." In 2011, republican campaigners came up with "CHP for everyone." The announcement, which was broadcast live by various TV stations, received mixed responses from voters and the country's political leadership. The CHP's references to clean energy and young people seem to have received positive feedback from republicans who have been on the fence since the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) stole the limelight from the AK Party's old-school opponents. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who used the term "Central Turkey" in a 2004 op-ed for Radikal newspaper, accused the main opposition leadership of plagiarism. The Central Turkey idea reflected the view, in Mr. Davutoğlu's words, that "Turkey ought to be viewed as a central country rather than a bridge [between East and West]."
The CHP may have borrowed the project title from the now prime minister, but the main opposition's foreign policy signals a return back to isolationist neutrality rather than activism. According to the CHP's 2015 election program, the CHP pledges to strengthen Turkey's ties with Russia, China and South American socialists. To address the political and humanitarian challenges in the Middle East, the party aims to normalize the country's ties with Israel and Damascus. "We will tell [Syrian refugees] to go back to their own country," Kılıçdaroğlu said at a campaign event in Mersin last month.
It remains extremely unlikely that the CHP's mega project will turn the election around, but it is important to acknowledge that the main opposition party has learned valuable lessons from consecutive losses. After engaging in identity politics for absolutely no good reason, the republicans have recently focused their attention on exciting projects and new initiatives in order to consolidate their base and reach out to new voter blocs. This development reveals an oft-ignored aspect of 21st-century Turkish politics: The AK Party years transformed not only the country itself but also the ways in which opposition parties fight back.