President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled his election manifesto at the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) provincial congress in Istanbul on Sunday and once again proved he is more prepared for the upcoming election than his opponents.
Erdoğan's election manifesto provides a summary of the political battles of the president and the AK Party as well as his vision for the future. It represents a combination of experience, vision and covenants. The text was filled with outreach toward domestic audiences and a message of determination while challenging to the world outside Turkey's borders. The president pledged more welfare, justice, liberty and economic development and linked those promises to Turkey's broader goal of becoming a global power. Finally, the imminent transition to the presidential system was described as the beginning of Turkey's rise.
Several trilogies in the election manifesto caught my attention, including the periodization of the AK Party's history – its foundation, resurrection and rise – and the text's central concepts of will, virtue and courage. Accordingly, Erdoğan described the period up to 2002 as the "foundation." The AK Party's experiences up to 2018 were summarized as its "resurrection." Finally, the post-2018 period, when a new political system will emerge, was called the "rise." The three discourses used to describe the AK Party's identity – conservative democracy, our civilization and national-native – were likewise incorporated into the manifesto.
Of course, the idea of a "national-native stance," which Erdoğan originally mentioned in his first speech upon his release from Pınarhisar Prison, was the essence of the whole manifesto. Moreover, the text, where the president associated himself with Turkey, consisted of three sections.
First, there was a description of a shared identity filled with emotion, passion, symbolism and history, which revolved around the theme of "us." It started with the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, touched upon important moments in the history of the Ottoman Empire and the republic, made references to Gallipoli and the Turkish War of Independence to reach the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. The idea of "us" was notably backed by examples of continuity, outreach and heroism.
Second, the election manifesto concentrated on the accomplishments of successive AK Party governments as examples of transformation, struggle and success. This section sees Turkey's political history as a struggle to do the nation's will and described Erdoğan's success at spurring economic growth and challenging the guardianship regime.
The final part was devoted to what the president hoped to accomplish over the next five years upon the adoption of the new system of government. It serves as a covenant between Erdoğan and the nation to transform Turkey into a global power. He promised to make the country more prosperous and free for everyone, and called on women and young people to work together: "You are the future; to whom we give custody of our dreams for 2053 and 2071. We shall not order you. We shall not let anyone dictate things to you. We shall not work to put you in boxes. We will just work together with you."
Another important part of Erdoğan's address in Istanbul related to the international system and regional developments. In addition to reiterating his commitment to make Turkey an "island of stability" in a sea of global uncertainty and conflict, the president said he was eager to work with the European Union and other allies within the limits of Turkey's national interests.
The main message of the election manifesto was: "We are all Turkey." This point was made with references to all-encompassing symbols and the sensitivities of the country's various social groups. "If one of us is not free, none of us can be free. If one of us isn't sure about the future, none of us can be sure about the future. We will take every step necessary to ensure that not one of our citizens finds themselves outside the circle of justice," Erdoğan said.
The president's Istanbul address was based on his own experiences and an overall realist perspective – as opposed to imaginary goals and promises. It captured the vision of a leader on the verge of creating a new political system. Now it is time to see what the rest of the presidential candidates have to say.
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