The AK Party comes to terms with its own power

Published 07.12.2014 23:39

Having successfully overcome internal and external crises in its first decade in power, the AK Party must now prepare for coming challenges while keeping its legacy in mind

We live in a region that typically experiences major transformations once a decade. Change is a necessity that often entails the form of a guardianship regime or complete chaos. Turkish politics, for instance, ended up being transformed every 10 years through military coups – an unnatural instrument generating unexpected consequences. As a matter of fact, the Feb. 28 postmodern coup in the late 1990s paved the way for the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to power.

Unlike its predecessors, the AK Party succeeded in striking down the guardianship regime's several efforts to arbitrarily limit its power. The 2007 presidential crisis and the military's e-memorandum, the 2008 closure case, the Gezi Park protests and the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 operations are leading examples of such attempts. Having managed to overcome the aforementioned unnatural challenges by appealing to the people, the AK Party now faces a unique and unprecedented difficulty today, which is to come to terms with its own legacy and manage its contents while still in power. This is perhaps the first such instance in the history of Turkish democracy and certainly a product of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's commitment to the three-term rule that presented the party with a shot at renewal. The AK Party, furthermore, must engage its legacy while the overwhelming majority believes it will remain in power for at least another eight years.

It goes without saying that I do not believe certain stakeholders will leave Turkey alone. But the presence of a powerful political party that facilitates stability has an undeniably normalizing influence on the nation's affairs, which will compel the AK Party to deal with the increasingly diverse and often conflicting demands of elites, groups and individuals. In other words, the party will have to rise to the challenge of its own accomplishments.

The presented danger of the Gülen Movement showed the nation just how challenging this type of confrontation can become. The radicalization of a movement with vast human capital from which the AK Party exerted significant power and its emergence as a staunch opponent deserves serious analysis. At this point, national security measures against the Gülen Movement shadow state must accompany a re-interpretation of society's dynamism. As I mentioned above, the nation must take similar steps once a decade.

One might think that any political party with lasting success ends up being charged with authoritarianism and corruption. But coming to terms with one's own achievements and witnessing the emergence of certain elites and groups, which the AK Party itself helped empower, turn into opponents represents an entirely different scenario. To successfully manage this situation and remain competitive after an extended run, the party will have to look beyond traditional forms of competition between political parties and their leaders. The obvious means to achieve these goals is to pass the 2023 vision onto new generations. In other words, the idea should be to reach out to various social groups and facilitate their political involvement.

Over the next decade, the AK Party will face at least three challenges with regard to managing its own legacy. First and foremost, the nation's leaders will have to design better micro-policies in a range of areas including urbanization and national security. Secondly, the party is compelled to responds to the demands and criticisms of young people who have spent most of their lives during its time in power. As a matter of fact, this particular group could do more damage than the Gezi Park protests by forming an opposition movement with reference to justice, participation and virtue – values that the AK Party itself cherishes. Finally, the AK Party will have to handle the dynamism of hybridization and diversity, including inter-elite struggles that represent products of its enrichment and empowerment of the party's base and elites. Whether or not the ruling party will be able to pioneer lasting change in Turkish politics will depend on its response to the aforementioned problem areas.

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