The Turkish people believe that they are entitled to govern themselves and they will stand behind the AK Party until the mission is accomplished
On Sunday, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) held an emergency congress to replace outgoing Chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu with former Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım. Although the leadership race made the headlines, it was the replacement of nearly 50 percent of all executive board members that was the real indicator of change within Turkey's ruling party. In fact, the drastic changes effectively cleared the path to a presidential system of government.
With the exception of some senior figures, the cabinet and the AK Party leadership have now been completely separated. According to senior party officials, more radical steps, including the exclusion of all cabinet ministers from the AK Party leadership, might be on the cards. Moving forward, they claim, the AK Party might abolish the tradition of the ruling party's chairman serving as the head of government - which looks like an effort to promote the new system with practical exercises.
Following the emergency congress, the cabinet received a heavily anticipated facelift. While former ministers, including EU Minister Ömer Çelik and Health Minister Recep Akdağ, returned to the government, new faces such as former Kayseri Mayor Mehmet Özhaseki and career bureaucrat Ahmet Arslan, made the cut.
In the wake of Mr. Davutoğlu's departure and Mr. Yıldırım's emphasis on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's strong ties to the AK Party, critics have been complaining about a perceived shift toward one-man rule. Had the self-proclaimed experts, including certain members of the foreign press, spent some time to brush up on Turkey's political history, they would have realized that Turkish conservatives have faced the same kind of criticism for decades.
Today, as in the past, Turkish politics is a battleground between the bureaucratic establishment and popular opposition movements.
To be clear, the AK Party's success had been in the making for almost an entire century. During the single-party era, popular opposition movements including that Progressive Republican Party (Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Fırkası) and Liberal Republican Party (Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırkası) were forced to disband over the regime's concerns. When free and fair multi-party elections took place in 1950, the Democratic Party (DP), which represented the next generation of center-right conservatism. The party was eventually removed from power by the military, which proceeded to execute three cabinet members including Prime Minister Adnan Menderes.
Over the next two decades, the Turkish people again sided with opponents of the bureaucratic establishment. In the mid-1960s, Süleyman Demirel, whose Justice Party was heir apparent to Menderes's DP, was able to tap into popular dissent. In 1973 and 1977, the late Bülent Ecevit, a center-left critic of the establishment, won landslide victories. Again, the military stepped in to overthrow Turkey's democratically elected government, which the old guard considered a threat to the oligarchy.
Just three years after the 1980 military coup, the Turkish people found another hero, Turgut Özal, who followed in the footsteps of Menderes and others. He, like Demirel, was a staunch advocate of the presidential system.
Today, President Erdoğan represents the tradition of center-right conservatism in Turkey and openly challenges the establishment by proposing constitutional changes. In doing so, he faces the same kind of criticism that was directed against his predecessors. Instead of promoting alternatives to the presidential system, opposition leaders are resorting to name-calling.
Make no mistake: The Turkish people believe that they are entitled to govern themselves and they will stand behind the AK Party until the mission is accomplished.