In a major development in the runup to the June 24 elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) election manifesto at its sixth ordinary congress in Istanbul on Sunday.
As a journalist, I attended the congress and joined several TV broadcasts with some of the AK Party's leading figures.
The congress, held in a massive sports hall adorned with giant flags and placards, was attended by a large crowd of thousands. There was not a single empty seat in the entire hall towards the afternoon. However, the crowd inside was nothing compared to the one gathered outside. Right from the entrance to the hall people almost filled a 1.5-kilometer street, and without a single commotion.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was the first to arrive at the congress hall. After addressing the crowd outside, he delivered a speech at the congress. Shortly after, President Erdoğan appeared in the company of First Lady Emine Erdoğan, his daughter Esra Albayrak and son-in-law Berat Albayrak. In the meantime, it had started to rain. Regardless, Erdoğan gave a long speech, which covered both the past and the present, to the crowd that waited for him under the pouring rain. Then, they headed inside the building.
Erdoğan began his speech at the congress at exactly 3:05 p.m. In the opening half of his speech, he mostly touched upon the progress of the AK Party and the threats confronted by it so far.
In the second half, he mainly stressed the notions of freedom and justice. He referred to all the ethnic and religious groups in Turkey, including women in headscarves, who were previously barred from receiving education, and the country's formerly marginalized Kurdish population. Erdoğan recalled how all these groups were treated unjustly in the past and said, "We have always said that the state exists for the nation, and not the other way around."
Erdoğan in his speech put particular emphasis on justice and freedom. He mentioned individual freedoms. He gave a green light to those who claim to have been subjected to unjust treatment lately by saying that the state justly embraces everyone who thinks that they are downtrodden during this era of resurrection.
"The AK Party strives for freedom. Ensuring the prosperity of our nation is as important a
s removing the obstacles to freedom of thought and faith as well as individual freedom," Erdoğan said, adding that he wants to do more for democracy in the future.
He also spoke at great length about terrorism threats and the fight against terrorism. But the liberal messages he gave made this speech special. For instance, Erdoğan said that they cared more about competition at a time when the world has been inclined to protectionism.
He also referred to the importance of a state of law and said that they want to render the powers more effective with the accentuation of the separation of powers under the new system.
The president also pointed out that Turkey must become integrated into the world by remaining "national and independent." Reiterating that the country would continue to pursue a European Union membership, Erdoğan said, "It is impossible to restrict the liberties of a nation that so courageously resisted July 15 [coup attempt]."
In a nutshell, he vowed to further promote democracy and rule of law in the country following the elections on June 24.
Frankly, I was expecting to hear these words. Turkey has made great progress under AK Party governments. Now, the party is looking to expand justice and freedom in line with the society's demands and the requirements for a state of law. To that end, the party is heading to the polls with a lot of engagement.