As of May 21, a new page in Turkey's history has been turned. On Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived at the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) extraordinary congress in his presidential car, and was reelected as the chairman of the party following a break of 998 days. Thus, the hypocrisy of the "impartial president" has come to an end. The congress has witnessed historic moments. From now on, the political codes in Turkey will undergo a radical transformation. The prime minister is to keep his office until 2019; meanwhile, the groundwork of the presidential government system will be completed step by step.
It was anticipated that the AK Party, which has been in power for 15 years and recently scored a victory with a "yes" vote in the April 16 constitutional referendum, would highlight messages of change at the congress. President Erdoğan's speech, which lasted an hour and 45 minutes, was crucial in terms of understanding the codes of the new period. Saying that serious changes will be made in institutions and municipalities, the president underscored the absence of professionalism in the party by saying: "We will keep walking on with our brothers and sisters who have been serving the AK Party without expecting any return." With these words, he emphasized that being a member of the AK Party comes from the heart. In other words, the congress aimed to express that the AK Party has not changed, and will part ways with those who do.
I believe that in the following period, the AK Party will place a special emphasis on policies regarding women and youth while protecting its reformist identity reminiscent of its early years. Erdoğan thinks that the people who look after their own interests by detaching from the party's spirit undermine the AK Party, so therefore it should part ways with them. In returning to his party, he aims to transmit his own energy and excitement to the old cadres once again. It must also be noted that Turkey will undergo both local and general elections in 2019. Stakes are higher now, as those who do not receive 51 percent will lose at the ballots. For this reason, the AK Party needs to be more encompassing and embrace different societal segments from now on.
In this sense, it can be said that the president kicked off the work needed for the 2019 elections as of Sunday. His speech also held some important clues regarding the party's strategy and prospects. One of the clues was pertinent to the party's foreign policy strategies. President Erdoğan follows a multidimensional policy line and targets a period where cordial relations with the West will be reestablished, as he underscored in his speech. While referring to the European Union as the source of the latest problems, the president also highlighted that he attaches importance to the EU membership goal and negotiation process and regards them as a dynamo for reforms. While criticizing the Syrian policy of the U.S., President Erdoğan pointed out the importance of Turkey as an ally.
As one of the journalists accompanying Erdoğan on his visits to the U.S. and China, I think the "closer integration with the world" policy will particularly focus on developing good relations with the U.S. and the U.K. Turkey aims to better its relations with the West while building ties with some other critical actors such as China and Russia. As a party that wants to win the 2019 elections, the AK Party foresees the economic costs of diverting from the West and the unrest it may spur in the public.