The April 16 constitutional referendum has two significant outcomes for Turkish politics. First is the political system's transformation from the years-long parliamentarian tradition to a presidential system. The second is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan returning to his beloved Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which he is the founder of and served as chairman of for 10 years. Contrary to his predecessors, Erdoğan is a professional politician who worked in every segment of a political party from his youth to adulthood, aware of the problems in the relation between politics and the state. That is why he demanded the re-establishment of the relation between the state and his party, since he thought the current political system suffers from strong leadership. All this led to the constitutional referendum on April 16, the passage of which allowed Erdoğan to take the lead of the AK Party again, but this time while also being the president.
Contrary to the previous charismatic leaders in the country, Erdoğan managed to put his signature on important successes even during his first moments in active politics. He worked at political parties' youth branches, presided as a provincial head, showed a great struggle for the Welfare Party (RP) that was under huge pressure during the times of the Sept. 12 coup and finally was elected as mayor of Istanbul. Having much experience in his political life, he was even put in jail due to a poem he read toward the end of his term as Istanbul mayor. In 2001, he proved that he was an independent, strong leader by founding the AK Party.On April 16, with the transformation to the presidential system, Erdoğan returned to his beloved party after a three-year break, achieving something that indeed all former charismatic leaders had always wanted. He was well aware that his party was failing to reform itself to further achievements in the future. Remembering the examples of previous similar parties, Erdoğan did not want the same mistakes to be repeated, and he was right, no one knows the AK Party like he does. That is what Erdoğan did with his return to the party – saving the AK Party from possible downfall. Theoretically, political parties based on charismatic leaders need an effective, strong leader to win elections, which is exactly what Erdoğan saw.
Thinking aloud about the new era
Since the April 16 referendum, to become successful in politics has required the simple majority of votes in elections. If a presidential candidate does not get the required votes, in the second round of the elections, their opposition can defeat them with a common candidate. In other words, the AK Party actually played a risky game by supporting the constitutional referendum, which creates the possibility of leading to its failure. However, at the same time it showed that the AK Party trusts itself, wishing for major change for Turkey, but not itself.
Therefore, as soon as Erdoğan returned to the AK Party, knowing the difficulty up to the 2019 presidential elections, he started a discussion on how the AK Party will prepare for the next elections.
"We will update all of our provincial, district and town organizations by the end of the year because there is a metal fatigue. We have to overcome this. With more dynamic teams, we have to prepare for 2019 [elections]." Erdoğan said
What was he trying to do with these statements? Briefly, he realized there is an urgent need for some reformations in the AK Party if it is determined and wants to get the majority of votes in the next elections. And what did he mean with the term ‹metal fatigue›? I think he was thinking aloud while trying to keep his party up. Facing the rising stagnation of party members, he made a move to revive the party organizations. To identify the problem, Erdoğan gave a start for reformations in the AK Party.
The AK Party is a very successful political party that has won every election since its foundation in 2001. Having millions of members, its voter base also includes millions of people from different political backgrounds. Since it won the majority of votes in its first election, it sequentially increased its voters in all subsequent elections.
Therefore, it is quite possible and normal that there are some members in the party who could have lost their energy to perform what is required now. Erdoğan pointed exactly to those by using the term metal fatigue. His aim is to revive the party by eliminating this problem.
Moreover, in the past months, Erdoğan also said: "We have been continuously in power for 14 years, but we still have some problems in the matter of having cultural and social power," showing that he is also well aware that the AK Party also suffers from other problems. It is quite apparent that there is a need for a reformation for the AK Party to revive itself. It would be rational to analyze Erdoğan's move by taking into consideration the above-mentioned reasons.
Consequently, the AK Party is an important party that has administered the democratic politics in Turkey for years. During its rule, it struggled for existence, making numerous contributions to Turkey's reformation process for better democracy. This article is not enough to mention all its reforms. However, it is obvious that this is a different era. I think it can be called "the era of rebuilding" for both the AK Party and Turkey.
* Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Yıldız Teknik University