AKP vs. AKP: A Political Tug-o-War

Power struggles within AKP intensify while Turkey is on the verge of a fundamental paradigm shift.

The year 2012 started with the labor pains of a new direction that the country is confronted with. Indigenous factors that are of structural and local nature are crucial in understanding and explaining this change of course. It is important to note that the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), appears to be undertaking an “enabling” role in implementing this process of change rather than providing a coherent organizational and intellectual leadership in real terms. More over this change is is taking place along a risky phase of a political tug-o-war that is witnessed within AKP.

A new constitution embodies the center of gravity of AKP’s wish to realign Turkish political landscape and factions that are embedded in the political and administrative spheres. After the national elections in June 2011, AKP declared the drafting of a new constitution to the forefront of the parliamentary agenda for 2012. The aim was to consolidate and advance the legislative and legal gains since 2002 in “streamlining” the state apparatus. This would ensure the final phase of a process that would effectively institute a system based on “rule by law” as opposed to “rule of law.”

Individual legislative and legal measures that were taken in the earlier tenor of the Government had effectively repositioned autonomous administrative bodies, including among others, the judiciary, under the political control and command of the governing party. However, the need for an umbrella framework still persisted to provide long-term protection and legitimacy of the extended and unchecked sphere of an absolute power of the governing party. Hence the need for a new constitutional framework would secure the proper mechanisms to safeguard and nurture the new “power play.”


This approach implies that a certain construction – of mechanisms and practices – has been carried out and finalized to date without the clear definition of the exact “roofing” of the ultimate intent. As such, the “new” constitution becomes a necessity, an inescapable next step, to provide the encompassing power of the “roof” that is needed for holding together the already existing or planned underlying structures.

After Erdogan’s call for a new constitution, as an initial step the Speaker of the Parliament initiated the process for the drafting of a new constitution with a view to seek such broad political support for the new text. He also established a wide and diverse communications platform to solicit and register the proposals of as wide a range as possible of NGO’s, individuals, political actors, other concerned elements of the larger society. The objective was clearly to obtain and entertain in the discussions the biggest possible contribution of the related public during this process.

The main opposition party, CHP, views the constitutional process as a critical turning point in the history of the Republic towards building of a “state of citizens” as opposed to creation of a society of “subjects of the state.” Therefore CHP has been very alert in preventing the erosion of the system of “checks and balances” and the re-institution of constitutional pillars of “separation of powers”, the very essence of a democratic society. CHP was also very keen to see that the founding principles of the Republic as a unitary, democratic and secular state based on social justice and rule of law firmly enjoy constitutional protections. As a left wing party CHP is committed to see to it that civil society is equipped with a meaningful constitutional mandate to bring to life and instigate a society of true freedoms in all facets of human development; providing the necessary constitutional protections for universal social security and access to quality education and health care for its citizens.

In early January 2012, a special parliamentary committee, set up as an inter-party commission with equal representation from each party in the parliament, started its work on the new constitution. Two months down the process, there is very little, if none, progress in the committee’s work. Even the operating guidelines of the committee have not been agreed on yet. It quickly became evident that there existed no common grounds among the political parties with regards to the general philosophical foundations of a new constitution. It became evident that the ruling party had not a real interest in addressing the issue of freedoms in the way. It was clear that AKP was interested in the question of civil freedoms; for as long as these freedoms would be aligned with the ultimate objectives of streamlining the state institutions along the political views and objectives of the Party.

As such, what started as an enthusiastic bipartisan process in the parliament has lost significant momentum and has come to a virtual state of halt, due, on the surface, to severe ideological disagreements between the two main political actors. In the meantime, two distinct developments have come to indicate that there might exist deeper running differences of opinions, not among the parties in the parliament, but directly within AKP, herself.

One of the developments came to light as the health problems of the Prime Minister Erdogan came to light, as he underwent a digestive system surgery. The two-week period whereby  Erdogan remained distant to active politics created a certain power vacuum in the ruling party. At least three different factions within the party, in its extended meaning, surfaced to capitalize on the opportunity to fill in for the perceived ailing in the party leadership. The behind the scenes story of this occurrence can be subject to a separate analysis; however, what became clear as a result made it evident that AKP represented an uneasy alliance of various centers of thought with political agendas that were fundamentally different from one another, e.g. on issues of security, social affairs, economic thoughts, cultural values and the like.

A second critical distortion was witnessed when the state prosecutors called for the questioning of the head of the State Intelligence Agency (MIT) for alleged violations of anti-terrorism laws by the Agency. Aside from questions of legality of this move, the very fact that members of the government-friendly corps of law-keepers would attempt to confront Erdogan and challenge the legality of actions of one his most trusted bureaucrats was a daring enough step in contemporary Turkey. It showed that the fault lines have been coming active not only within the Party but also within the coalitions that have been building in and around the state administrative mechanisms in the country. The clash here may not rest on the same issue areas as in the Party. Rather, the clash here appears to surface with regards the very principles that underlie the unitary form of the state and the future of the Republic as one whole sovereign political entity in this complex geography.

In either case, the actions of the government in the first two months of 2012 explicate that the ruling AKP government is opening up the most dangerous debate of its 10 year tenor in the driver seat. The Prime Minister is openly challenging, instead of advancing, the values and principles that hold together the society as an independent and unitary sovereign entity in the region. By doing so, he is putting in jeopardy not only his personal political career or that of the party he is heading but the very social and political fabric of the Republic.

What appears is that unless the showdown within his party and with his “coalition” partner(s) outside the party would yield a favorable outcome for his purposes; or, a new state of equilibrium among the major different stakeholders of his rule is attained, it is not realistic to expect that the process for the new constitution shall set on a constructive and progressive course. The country is facing dire economic, social and political difficulties and challenges in the coming months and years over and above the currently prevailing inequitable terms of burden-sharing among its citizens.

A certain political tug-o-war is taking place on the AKP side with potentially devastating social, economic and political consequences on the future of the Turkish society. And we see that the people shall endure this risky “power play” before the real agenda of individual freedoms, social peace and social justice as tabled by Turkey’s main opposition would be properly addressed to by the law-makers in the parliament.

About Nebil İlseven

PhD in banking, former chief of CHP Istanbul