Benden Sonra Tufan? The Post-Electoral Political Economy of Turkey’s AK Party


Can we start imagining a post-AKP political landscape?

On June 12, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was returned to office. Due to the intricacies of the Turkish electoral system, their total number of seats fell, but their actual percentage of the vote rose to nearly fifty percent, the highest proportion won by any party in over forty years. In subsequent months, one certainty of Turkish politics after another has been destabilized. Turkey’s relationship with Israel? Damaged, perhaps beyond repair. The influence of the military? The resignation of the entire general staff caused barely a ripple in the political waters. The benefits of convergence with Europe? As one EU member economy after another buckles, Turkey’s remains vigorous. And all of this redounds to the glory of the AKP and its leader Recep Tayip Erdoğan, who seems more politically powerful than ever. No better time then to ask: Is this the beginning of AKP decline?

On the one level, the question is, by intention, silly—engaging in prediction should be left to the fortunetellers and Futurists. As a starting point for analyzing the elections, however, it is useful. For years now, trends have largely gone in the AKP’s favor. The fact that nearly one in two voting Turks cast their ballot for the party reflects a public affirmation of the party’s successes, yet success brings an array of new dilemmas in its wake, and whether the AKP is well prepared to meet these challenges remains to be seen.

In the paper to follow, I will consider how the AKP is changing. I will trace the political-economic roots of the AKP before touching on how the recent election has positioned (and re-positioned) parties with respect to economic policy. I will discuss how the AKP is becoming increasingly wedded to a certain type of economic development policy that, successful as it may be, leaves political openings to its opponents. And finally I will look at methods by which, given these weaknesses, the party maintains its connection to its core constituents.



I. What Is the Justice and Development Party?

II. Justice and Development in the Market

III. The 2011 Election

IV. Steering the Economy

V. Alcohol, Smut, Hearts, and Minds

VI. Conclusion

I. What Is the Justice and Development Party?

To begin with, we must ask ourselves, what is this thing, AKP, that has appeared on the Turkish scene? What does it represent? What are its goals? And what is the base of its enduring strength?

The AKP’s lineage can be traced back decades, but it would be a mistake to view it as merely the latest in a succession of Islamist political parties. Much of the AKP’s leadership came of political age in an era dominated by Necmettin Erbakan and the National View (Milli Görüş) Movement. An engineer and university professor, Erbakan had seized national attention by running for (and winning) the presidency of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), a state-controlled association of Turkish businesses. Running with the support of the organizations’ smaller members, he antagonized larger firms with the consequence that many decided to form their own independent business lobbying organization, TÜSİAD.

Erbakan’s Islamic parties played important roles in the fragmented coalition politics of the 1970s; often being given a ministry or two to manage in return for their support. The 1980 coup leaders, however, shuttered the party and prohibited Erbakan’s direct participation in politics for much of the decade. Over the following years a variety of trends—including the discrediting of ISI and etatism, a fairly pious administration headed by Turgut Özal (whose own brother had been a member of Erbakan’s party), and the example of nearby Iran—helped broaden the appeal of Islamist politics in Turkey. Throughout the country, pious politicians developed a “vernacular politics” that spoke to Turkish people in ways that resonated with their moral understanding of the world.[1] By the mid-1990s, Erbakan was advocating a policy platform termed “Just Order” (Adıl Düzen), which called for a more egalitarian economic order based on religious ethics.

The growth of “Islamic” finance also helped pious politicians.[2] The rise of Islamic banking provided new sources of capital for small businessmen long shutout of coastal financial networks.[3] Equally important, the economic reforms of the Özal era encouraged Turks living abroad to remit their foreign earnings to family and fund new business ventures in their mother country. (Sensitive to these potential sources of funding, both the Milli Görüş Movement and numerous “Islamic” corporations set up branches in Turkish communities abroad in order to solicit contributions.) Money and political support from these émigrés and a constellation of “Anatolian tiger” companies further helped expand the reach of pious politicians.

Such factors catapulted pious politicians—gathered, during the 1990s, under the banner of the Welfare Party (RP)—to local and national office.[4] Success, however, creates its own dilemmas. In addition to Erbakan and his close associates were added new pious politicians with independent bases, such as Erdoğan in Istanbul and Melih Gökçek in Ankara. Similarly, many younger politicians, such as Abdullah Gül, came from areas defined not by their economic weakness, but by their ability to compete in international markets. Consequently, their political outlook was rather different from leaders, like Erbakan, who saw the state as the primary engine of development and considered Muslim solidarity as the main argument in favor of greater regional engagement.

When Erbakan was yet again removed from office by the military in 1997, leaving his allies to rally the Islamist movement under a the banner of the Virtue party (FP), many of these young politicians resisted falling in line behind Erbakan’s chosen successor. After a failed attempt by Gül to win the new party’s presidency, he and a number of like-minded politicians split to form the AKP.

During the subsequent national election in 2002, AKP leaders emphasized their differences from both the RP and the larger Milli Görüş Movement.[5] AKP politicians pushed back against charges that they sought to impose Islamic practices on the public. In campaign speeches, AKP politicians focused on “professionals and professionalism,” muting any criticism of neo-liberal economics in favor of diatribes against corrupt government officials.[6]

II. Justice and Development in the Market

In office, the AKP has overseen rapid economic expansion, a rise in the overall standard of living, and a steady increase in national prestige on the world stage.[7] Yet there is still no consensus as to precisely what the AKP seeks. Some writers describe it as “squarely on the center right” of Turkish politics,[8] while others see it as a “transformation of Islamic politics based on the US conservative model”[9]—in the sense that the AKP has captured the energies of Islamist radicalism and subsumed them within the global capitalist order. In short, the AKP has achieved “the naturalization of neo-liberalism” in Turkey.[10]

AKP may well have achieved this “passive revolution,” absorbing the masses in the “pious business community’s” new hegemonic order. Then again, this achievement has not yet been tested. In the past ten years, there have been few events that forced the AKP to choose between its voters and its financial supporters. Former radicals may be happy now and favorably disposed to the disciplines of a neo-liberal order, but their degree of allegiance to that order may be fleeting. Many secular-minded Turks nervously recall Erdoğan comparing democracy to a train that AKP supporters could depart upon reaching their goal; it is highly possible that many AKP supporters view the party itself as a train, which they can exit when it ceases to benefit them.

In fact, many elements that constitute the AKP’s appeal could, just as easily, prove to be its Achilles’ heel. Consider Turkey’s foreign trade policy. Foreign exports have driven the Turkish economy since the 1980s when Özal’s currency devaluation and export promotion strategy were implemented. During the past three decades, the composition of Turkish exports has shifted from agricultural products to manufactured goods. The composition of its trade partners has shifted dramatically too. While the volume of trade with traditional partners like Germany and France has doubled and tripled respectively, during the past decade exports to Egypt have increased by 400%, by 600% to Iran and Syria, and by 2700% to Libya. Officially recorded exports to Iraq have climbed from zero to $6 billion in the space of seven years![11]

Numerous factors account for these astounding figures. That many factors lie beyond the AKP’s control has hardly stopped the government from taking credit—and, to be fair, the government hasworked assiduously to develop new markets. In the case of Syria, Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan has made repeated visits in order to secure new trade opportunities and oversee the development of a massive cement factory in the city of Rakka owned by Turkey’s Güriş Holding.[12] In 2009 Gül himself made a presidential visit with numerous businessmen in tow.

Similar examples can be given in Libya and elsewhere. In essence, growth in the Turkish economy is increasingly dependent on relations with neighboring countries. Events in North African countries during the Arab Spring revolutions cased tremendous uncertainty in the Turkish economy as major corporations were faced with the prospect of losing both market access (in the form of contracts) and investments in fixed capital (in the form of factories).[13] Thus far, Turkish leaders have been quite skillful in picking sides. In Libya, where billions in construction contracts had been put on hold, Turkish market penetration may actual increase.[14] In Egypt with its stagnant economy and Syria events seem less certain.

Domestically the AKP has held rather strictly to IMF mandated macro-economic policies. Among these is large-scale privatization.[15] In order to pay off the sizeable debts left to it by preceding governments, the AKP has been vigorous in its efforts to sell off large state owned enterprises, including Türk Telekom, Turkish Airlines, and major petrol refining companies. Additionally existing monopolies in communication networks, energy provision, and commodities like tobacco and spirits were ended. The result has been a more dynamic Turkish economy, a reduction of government losses, and gains in efficiency and productivity.

Privatizations have generated billions of dollars in revenue for the government over the past decade, but they have also identified the AKP very closely with “neo-liberal” economics. Given the success such policies have met with, opposition parties have cautiously supported the privatization program as well. They have, however, hedged their bets. The CHP, for example, declares that privatization is not a “goal,” but rather a “necessary means” in addressing “the circumstances and needs” of important sectors of the economy, and, furthermore, emphasizes the necessity of establishing an effective legal framework for the process.[16] Such squishiness favorably positions the opposition in the event of a scandal or other unforeseen series of events.

Such positioning is inherent in electioneering and, now having discussed the political and economic roots of the AKP and touched on a few of its polices, we shall consider the recent elections, how they have altered the party, and how these changes may influence its future policies.

III. The 2011 Election

Going into the electoral campaign, the AKP’s strategy was to siphon off votes from the nationalist MHP (National Action Party). To win seats in the national assembly, political parties must either garner more than 10% of the vote nationally or, as in the case of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), run candidates as independents in districts where they can secure a majority of the vote. Once elected, these independents can organize under a party’s umbrella. The MHP, which contests elections as a national party, had only won around 15% in the previous election. Were the AKP able to knock MHP numbers down below the 10% threshold, it would receive a distribution of seats in the assembly far out of proportion to its actual percentage in the polls. These extra seats would give the AKP more than two thirds of the total seats in the assembly and allow it to write a new constitution of its choosing, free from compromises with other parties.

A year earlier, during the 2010 constitutional referendum, the AKP had made significant inroads with MHP voters. The package before voters in 2010 had included reforms allowing civilian prosecution of military personnel—essentially opening the door to prosecutions of 1980 coup leaders. And, given that the military had targeted MHP members in addition to unions and other left-wing organizations, there was a substantial well of resentment for the AKP to tap. During a speech to the assembly, Erdoğan justified the reform package with reference to several left and right-wingers who had been sentenced to death in the coup’s aftermath. While reading out a death-row letter from a young nationalist, Erdoğan even teared-up.[17] Although the MHP leadership opposed the referendum, a significant number of their base and past grandees gave it their support. The MHP emerged from the referendum looking weakened.

AKP politicians, sensing an opening, sought to reduce MHP support in two ways. First was through co-opting its message. Even before the 2011 election season officially commenced, Erdoğan began using more nationalistic rhetoric. Calls for tolerance and unity so common during his Kurdish Opening initiative two years earlier were gone,[18] replaced by hard-line jeremiads against separatism—red meat to nationalist voters.

This reorienting of the party extended to personnel; MHP politicians were actively recruited for AKP constituencies. In the lead up to announcing the final candidate list, various names were floated.[19]The final list contained a few striking examples; for instance, Ahmet Kurtalmış Türkeş, the son of MHP founder Alparslan Türkeş. Though the AKP had been seeking out talented lawyers and economists to fill its electoral slate, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the 33 year old Türkeş’ financial sector experience.[20] When asked why he had joined the AKP, Türkeş simply explained that, “An invitation didn’t come from the MHP, from the AKP one did.”[21] Despite weak party allegiance, the Türkeş was placed seventh on the AKP candidate list for Istanbul’s second district, virtually assuring his election. Similarly, in the southern province of Hatay, the AKP placed Hacı Bayram Türkoğlu a former MHP member, second on its list. Again, despite questionable party loyalty, Türkoğlu was a popular politician in the region, having served as mayor of Dörtyol for eight years.[22]

The second method of reducing MHP votes was dirty tricks. In the run up to the election, numerous sex tapes were released showing several MHP politicians in compromising positions with both underage and married women. Although it is impossible to be certain that the AKP was involved, the whole scandal bore a striking resemblance to one the previous year wherein a leaked video showed (then) CHP leader Deniz Baykal and another parliamentarian in flagrante delicto. Although, arguably, Baykal’s ouster may have led to a more effective opposition party, neither scandal put the CHP or MHP in good light to pious voters.

The 2010 referendum had also been a test of the AKP’s power in Turkey’s southeastern provinces. Party leaders had hoped that, by incorporating the country’s Kurdish population more fully into the political system, they would secure electoral support among Kurds. The fizzling out of the Kurdish Opening mooted such hopes. The closure of the main Kurdish party (DTP) and banning of its leaders had thoroughly soured many Kurds on the process. Instead of either supporting or opposing the referendum, Kurdish politicians chose to boycott it. The failure of the AKP’s southeastern members to effectively rally their constituencies led to a wholesale culling of candidates—including many backed by local clans (aşiret).[23] Around seventy percent of the sitting Kurdish AKP candidates were left off the electoral list.[24]

A final factor influencing Erdoğan in his composition of the AKP’s candidate list was the imminent drafting of a new constitution. After the election, Erdoğan had promised to replace the military designed 1982 constitution. This new constitution would, he hinted, replace the parliamentary system with a presidential system. Even within the AKP such a change remains controversial. Gül himself expressed doubts and, “not surprisingly, many parliamentarians deemed close to Gül were left off the final AKP list.”[25] In their place, Erdoğan added to the already large number of technocrats, lawyers, and close allies.

Three provinces exemplify these various shifts: Adana, Hatay, and Mersin.[26] In Adana the party list remained unchanged except for one important change. Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, who had previously toped the list, was not included. Firat had served three terms in the assembly, first as a member of the Virtue Party (FP) and subsequently as a founding member of the AKP. But, as an ethnic Kurd, Firat’s relationship to the governing party was always complicated and in 2008 he split with the leadership over its Kurdish policies; as a consequence his absence from the list was unsurprising.[27] His replacement, Mehmet Şükrü Erdinc was a local lawyer who had moved up through the AKP ranks during the past decade to become head of the party’s provincial youth branch.[28]

In Hatay, two out of the five elected AKP candidates—40% of the total—were new: the previously mentioned Haci Bayram Turkoğlu, and Adem Yeşildal, who had served since 2006 as the provincial party president.[29] Although Yeşildal had not been a candidate for the national assembly before, he was influential regionally, an AKP stalwart dating back to the party’s inception and, therefore, “the strongest candidate after Sadullah Ergin,” the party list’s top candidate.

In Mersin, electoral list changes were the most extreme. The MHP had won the province in 2007 and AKP opponents had prevailed in the 2010 referendum. Kürşat Tüzmen, the party’s top candidate in 2007, had roots in the MHP and had vocally criticized Erdoğan’s Kurdish initiative.[30] Such dissent led to his dismissal from a cabinet post in early 2010. Predictably, he was not on the party list this time around. Also left off the Mersin list was Mehmet Zafer Üskül, a left-wing AKP member and head of the Human Rights Commission—among his accomplishments had been pushing reduced sentences for Kurdish teens convicted of throwing rocks at soldiers.

In fact none of the 2007 candidates appeared on the 2011 list. Instead, Zafer Cagaylan, the Trade Minister, was switched from his Ankara constituency to head the Mersin list. Cagaylan represents the business-minded wing of the party having previously served as head of TOBB. He was joined on the list by Ahmet Tevfik Uzun, a local politican; Çiğdem Münevver Ökten, a local businesswoman involved with many foundations, and Nebi Bozkurt, a professor of Islamic theology.

In all three provinces, the AKP won a majority. Generally speaking the new candidates from these regions were fairly representative of the party’s new composition—nationalists, business people, lawyers, grass-roots activists, and a sprinkling of more pious representatives. Overall, the AKP that emerged from the elections was, as a result of all these adjustments, more nationalist, more professional, and more directly loyal to Erdoğan, but, potentially, less representative of its core voters and less ideologically cohesive.

The greatest challenge for the AKP, however, lies elsewhere: if party mandated term-limits are observed, much of the leadership will have to retire at the end of the 24th Parliament. Very effective candidate selections have allowed the party to appeal to a diverse array of regions, but few of these candidates have appeal outside their localities. How this newly configured AKP will respond to national challenges over the four years to come remains to be seen. And there are indeed challenges.

In the interests of brevity, let us consider the one on which the AKP’s reputation most closely depends: economic management.

IV. Steering the Economy

Turkey was not hit particularly hard by the financial crisis of 2008—similar to many Asian countries, Turkey had been “fortunate” enough to have experienced its financial debacles earlier in the decade. Its banks had, in a sense, already been tested. Furthermore, the its financial institutions were more regulated than its European counterparts, reducing its exposure to Greek debt. Of the $29 billion in foreign debt held by Turkish banks, Greek debt makes up only 1.6%.[31]

In response to the initial crisis, the Central Bank cut interest rates to encourage continued borrowing while taking additional measures to maintain bank liquidity. The policies proved successful. Turkey did not experience a recession—in fact the GDP grew by 10% in 2010. Over the course of the 2010, the government cut back its capital injections.

Success has had its own risks, however: By the beginning of 2011, the ratio of loans to deposits had reached nearly 100%. The availability of cheap loans, as well as the general economic growth, spurred inflation. Stimulus efforts in other countries pumped capital into markets worldwide and investors from those foreign markets, seeking a high rate of return, directed their money to portfolios and short-term investments in countries like Turkey. Newfound access to these large inflows of foreign capital encouraged Turkish manufacturers and consumers to import.[32] By the beginning of 2011, the current account deficit had risen to 9.25% of GDP.

Tasked with addressing these difficulties is Central Bank Governor Erdem Başçı. Before taking his post, Başçı served as chief economic advisor to Economy Minister Ali Babacan. The relationship between the banker and the politician is very close: the two attended school in Ankara together and their parents ran businesses in the same neighborhood. Başçı had been Babacan and Erdoğan’s first choice for the post six years earlier, but was blocked at the time because secularist president Ahmet Necdet Sezer viewed Başçı (and his head-scarf clad wife) as too close to Islamist politics.[33]

The challenge facing the Central Bank is to reduce the trade deficit without halting economic growth. To accomplish this feat, Başçı turned to “an unconventional package of monetary measures.”[34] To reduce the unpredictable inflows of foreign capital, the Bank lowered its policy rate; to encourage long-term investment, it widened the interest-rate corridor—the effect being more volatile short-term rates. Further, the Central Bank increased banks’ reserve requirements to discourage loans, while simultaneously weakening the lira to dampening demand for imports. Many imports, however, are for intermediate manufactured goods and energy supplies on which the Turkish value-added industry depends. Raising the cost of these imports may pass cost increases on to Turkish manufacturers and consumers. If domestic suppliers cannot address this demand, serious problems may occur.

Ultimately, no matter how competent Central Bank policy may be, the Turkish economy remains exposed to the wills of international markets. Over the summer of 2011, as the global financial situation grew increasingly uncertain, investors began to pull capital out of emerging markets such as Turkey.[35] In response the lira grew weaker still and inflation spiked. Throughout the electoral campaign, both the MHP and CHP had promised to keep inflation at 5% or below. During the first half of 2011, such guarantees gained them no political traction as the AKP was managing to achieve even lower numbers. But, in the months since the election, inflation has averaged between 6% and 8% and the lira’s exchange rate has risen a dramatic 20% against the dollar. All of which gives the opposition new lines of attack.

Beyond macro-economic adjustments, the AKP continues to funnel money into the economy via infrastructure projects. The party has long associated itself with massive construction projects. Many have been well received—high speed trains, expanded subway and bus networks, an underwater tunnel to connect European and Asian Istanbul—but some recent proposals, like a third Bosporus bridge have been criticized as adding to urban sprawl, not easing it.[36] Electoral promises have expanded the number of AKP proposals. Mersin can expect a new airport, Trabezon a new stadium. The most questionable project is a proposed canal west of Istanbul that will allow for increased containership traffic. Yet, as stipulated in international treaties, Turkey cannot charge tolls and without such a financing mechanism, there is no way to pay down the cost of construction.[37]

The CHP’s centerpiece electoral proposal, by contrast, was Family Insurance, a welfare program that would have provided a minimum living allowance of around 1000YTL per month to every needy household. The plan might have been equally unworkable financially, but the nature of the AKP’s critique is telling. Finance Minster Ali Babacan argued that the whole plan—and the general “social state” orientation of the CHP—was uncalled for

Because our constitution is quite clear. By no means do we favor untamed capitalism. In Turkey we already have a sense of cooperation. This exists in our culture and our history. Our foundations and associations are connected to this. Social issues are not implemented and borne solely by the state. As a state, we devote [part of the] budget. However, this solidarity and assistance already exists in our culture. Guaranteeing this, as the direction of the state, as its natural duty, and as a natural right of citizens, is already our basic philosophy.[38]

A vision of welfare as being largely the province of civil society is very close to the neo-liberal ideal.[39] Although Babacan went on to criticize the CHP’s plan on its fiscal merits as well, the above comments suggest how poorly positioned the party might be in the face of rising social demands.

V. Alcohol, Smut, Hearts, and Minds

So how does a political party maintain the devotion of voters? And—since, according to Babacan, cost is an issue—how does it do so cheaply? One way is by playing on cultural cleavages. In this regard, the “headscarf issue” receives a great deal of attention. Here, though, let us consider something different: alcohol policy.[40]

With the privatization TEKEL, its public-sector monopoly, the Turkish state has gotten out of the alcohol production business. Through the Tobacco and Alcohol Marketing Regulatory Authority (TAPDK), however, the state remains very much involved in the regulatory process. Via this institution, the AKP intervenes in the market to fight its culture wars.

Much has been written about how pious politicians challenge Turkey’s secular space, creating more “Islamic visibilities” and constructing new public spaces that exclude activities and symbols associated with secularism.[41] Alcohol is a particularly potent symbol. Pious politicians depict it as counter to modern, progressive behavior. AKP leaders, like co-founder Bülent Arınç, argue that, “In modern countries, it’s not possible to sell alcohol in every area . . .We are not against people’s private lives. In houses, in bars, in meyhanes, in night clubs . . .we have no thought of closing nor banning [alcohol].” But “areas open to the public” are a different matter.[42]

Since assuming power the AKP has been facilitating alcohol bans at the local level. In August of 2005, the government published a new series of workplace regulations in which authority to regulate alcohol was devolved to municipalities.[43] AKP politicians in areas that depend on tourism—or where their own electoral success depends more on managerial competence than cultural issues—tend to shy away from enacting bans. In more conservative AKP-controlled municipalities, like Ankara, however, alcohol has been increasingly regulated. Parks and popular tourist destinations were targeted by bans. Elsewhere in the city, night inspection teams performed spot-checks on local businesses to assess if they were adhering to “opening and closing times, health rules, noise limits and fire safety regulations.”[44] In 2011, in advance of the summer festival season, TAPDK announced new age restrictions and, within weeks of the elections, outdoor tables had been banned in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu nightlife district. The AKP justifies regulations of this sort are on the grounds the Article 58 of the constitution grants the state power to protect young people from drugs, alcohol, and gambling.[45] In the case of alcohol restrictions at festivals, TAPDK has broadened the definition of “youth” to include 24 year olds.

Arguing for restrictive policies as being implement in the interest of youth extends beyond alcohol:crack downs on the media and freedom are similarly presented as a defense of public morals. Internet access in Turkey, for example, is filtered. Though the filtering primarily targets porn, the it has also included sites like Youtube on account of anti-Mohammed (and anti- Erdoğan) videos that had been posted to the site. When Ümit Boyner, the head of the powerful business lobby TUSİAD, argued that bans made her “anxious,” and suggested that “we should review the legal process and criteria” supporting such bans, Arınç shot back that, “Ms. Boyner has children too,” and should know better than to argue for unfiltered internet. He added that, “If Ms. Boyner and those who share her sentiments come to power, they can liberalize porn sites as well as sites that propagate violence and describe killing.”[46] By casting their opponents as immoral—in contrast with themselves—AKP leaders remind their supporters of both the party’s moral roots and the debauchery for which the opposition stands.

VI. Conclusion

As we can see, the AKP has carefully tailored its message to different regions and different political moods. As new sectors entered the market, and new populations entered the cities, the party rose in tandem. From a widely discredited state-elite, it inherited an economy that had only recently been stabilized. By closely following internationally approved macro-economic policies, it could smooth over some of the contradictions between its policies and the desires of its supporters. Sustained economic growth vindicated it.

The 2011 elections show the AKP at its most politically savvy, but many of its short term successes suggest future weaknesses. By incorporating former MHP and CHP politicians, the AKP becomes more dependent on politicians of uncertain loyalty. By moving right, the party opens more of the center to contestation. By basing its appeal on economic competence, the party becomes subject to the will of the market. By playing up cultural issues, the party risks alienating social moderates. By relying on a few personalities at the national level, succession processes become yet another Achilles heel. Four years from now, Erdoğan will either be president or absent from elected politics. Dominant as he is, this diminishment of power will destabilize the current political system and alter the AKP as we know it. Few national level politicians exist, most are tied to their localities; the recent election did little to alter this regionalism. Absent a strong leader, the potential exists for centrifugal forces to weaken the party. Such problems have affected every Turkish political party—and none has found the magic formula to overcome them in the long term.

For all its successes. We shouldn’t assume the AKP will either.


[1] Jenny White, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002

[2] See Filiztekin, Alpay and İnsan Tunalı. (1999) “Anatolian Tigers: Are They For Real.” New Perspectives on Turkey. No. 20. Pp. 77-106, Özcan, G. B. (2003). “Limits to Alternative Forms of Capitalization- The Case of Anatolian Holding Companies.” World Development, 31(12), 2061-84, Uygur, S. (2009). “The Islamic Work Ethic and the Emergence of Turkish SME Owner-Managers.”Journal of Business Ethics, 88(1), 211-25

[3] Haldun Gülalp. “Globalization and the Political Islam: The Social Bases of Turkey’s Welfare Party.” International Journal of Middle East Studies. Vol. 33. 2001. Pp. 433-48. Gülalp focuses especially on political Islam’s relationship to class.

[4] See Akinci, Ugur. “The Welfare Party’s Municipal Track Record: Evaluating Islamist Municipal Activism in Turkey.” Middle East Journal. Vol. 53. No. 1. 1/1/99. Pp. 75-94, Mecham, R Quinn. “From the Ashes of Virtue, a Promise of Light: The Transformation of Political Islam in Turkey.” Third World Quarterly. Vol. 25. No. 2. 1/1/4. Pp. 339-58, Yavuz, M. Hakan. “Political Islam and the Welfare (Refah) Party in Turkey.”€ Comparative Politics. Vol. 30. No. 1. 10/97. Pp. 63-82

[5] Erdoğan claimed to have taken “off the shirt of the national view [Milli Görüş].” Ihsan Dagi, “Turkey’s AKP in Power,” Journal of Democracy, 19 (3), July 2008, pp. 26-30

[6] Cihan Tuğal, Passive Revolution, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 151

[7] Though it remained among the worst ranked on the OECD’s 2011 Social Equality Report. For details ee:

[8] Dagi, p. 30.

[9] Tuğal, p. 53.

[10] Tuğal, p. 151.

[11] “Ülkelere Göre İhracat, 1990-2010” statistics are available from the Turkish Economy Ministry at:

[12] “Çağlayan`dan Suriye`ye dördüncü ziyaret .” 4/30/11. Available at: and “Bakan Çağlayan’ın Suriye ziyareti .” 1/15/11. Available:,n,10558360,167).aspx

[13] “‘Arab Spring’ a winter for Turkish contractors.” Turkish Daily News. 6/31/11.

[14] “Kaddafi artık yok, iş konuşalım.” Radikal. 10/22/11.

[15] Much of this information comes from İzak Atiyas. “Recent privatization experience of Turkey.”Turkey and the Global Economy. Ziya Öniş and Fikret Şenses ed. New York: Routledge, 2009. Pp. 101-22.

[16] Cumhuriyet Halk Partısı Programi. “Çağdaş Türkiye İçin Değişim.” 2011. P. 175.

[17] “Başbakan Erdoğan ağladı.” 6/20/10. Accessed on10/27/11 at:

[18] For a good overview of the 2009 AKP initiative see Halil Karaveli. Reconciling Statism with Freedom: Turkey’s Kurdish Opening. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program. Oct. 2010. Available:

[19] “Ramiz Ongun AKP Aday mı?” 2/6/11. Accessed on 10/28/31 at:

[20] “Başbuğ’un Oğlu Akpartili Ahmet Kutalmış Türkeş Kimdir?” Reyhaber. 4/14/11. Accessed on 10/26/11 at:

[21] Deniz Güçer. “İşte bilinmeyen Ahmet Türkeş!”Gazetevatan. 4/14/11. Accessed on 10/26/11 at:

[22] And he would have been elected to the national assembly had the MHP broken the 10% barrier in 2002. “Eski MHP’li Belediye Başkanı Türkoğlu, AK Parti’den Aday Gösterildi.” Accessed on 10/26/11 at: and Hacı Bayram Türkoğlu’ s personal website :

[23] Göksel Bozkurt. “The Corridor: Codes of the Kurdish question in candidate lists.” Turkish Daily News. 4/8/11 and “Ak Parti’de ilk liste istifası.” Milliyet. 4/12/11.

[24] MK Kaya. “The Nominations of Candidates for the June General Election: A Choice Between Status Quo and Renewal.” Turkey Analyst. Vol. 18. No. 8. 4/18/11. Available at:

[25] Henri J Barkey. “The Road to Turkey’s June Elections: Crises, Strategies, and Outcomes.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 5/9/11. Available at:

[26] I select these three cases as particularly interesting because each voted “No” in the referendum, but then handed the AKP a victory (albeit by often slim margins) in the general election. Only Çannakale, Balıkesir, and Antalya were similar.

[27] Perennial corruption allegations did help either. MK Kaya. “Kurdish Problems Force Erdogan to Shift Right.” Turkey Analyst. 11/21/08

[28] Mehmet Şükrü Erdinc’s personal site:

[29] Şemsettin Günay. Hataydenge, “Adem Yeşildal AK Parti Adayı.” 1/24/11 and Adem Yeşildal’s personal webpage:

[30] “Kürşat Tüzmen AKP’den kopuyor mu?” 3/25/11

[31] “Turkey may survive Greek storm, analysts say.” Turkish Daily News. 5/31/11/

[32] “Financial Stability Report.” Central Bank of Turkey. Vol. 12. May 2011. Pp. 11-2. Available at:

[33] Ali Berat Meric and Steve Bryant. “Erdem Basci, Cheap-Money Proponent, Is Named to Head Turkey’s Central Bank.” Bloomberg. 4/14/11. Available at:

[34] IMF, “Turkey-2011: Article IV Consultation Preliminary Conclusions.” The foregoing economic analysis here is largely a summary of this IMF report.

[35] “Inflation Report 2011-IV.” Central Bank of Turkey. October 2011. Available at:

[36] Nicholas Dynan and Luis Gallo. “Third Bosphorus bridge splits clashing sides.” Turkish Daily News. 5/12/10.

[37] Murat Yetkin. “Russia urges Turkey to preserve Montreux Treaty” Turkish Daily News. 4/29/11

[38] Babacan’dan Kılıçdaroğlu’na eleştiri .” Milliyet. 2/17/11. “Çünkü Anayasamızda çok açık. Bir vahşi kapitalizm taraftarı asla olmadık. Türkiye’de zaten bir dayanışma anlayışı var. Bu bizim kültürümüzde, tarihimizde var. Bununla ilgili vakıflarımız, derneklerimiz var. Sosyal konular Türkiye’de sadece devlet tarafından üstlenilen, yürütülen konu değil. Devlet olarak bütçe ayırıyoruz ama bu dayanışma, yardımlaşma zaten bizim kültürümüzde var. Bunun devlet boyutuna taşınması ve devletin doğal bir görevi olarak vatandaşların da doğal bir hakkı olarak sağlanması zaten bizim temel felsefemiz.”

[39] For a good discussion of Neo-Liberalism, social citizenship, and the state/market relationship see Margaret Somers. Genealogies of the State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

[40] This is largely a summarization of previous work I have done. See Reuben Silverman. “‘Life Does Not Consist of Alcohol and Sex’: Alcohol Bans and the Politics of Modernity in Turkey.” Available at:

[41] Çinar, Alev İnan. “Refah Party and the City Administration of Istanbul.” New Perspectives on Turkey. No. 17. Spring 1997. Pp. 23-40 and Bodies, Places and Time: Islamic Visibilities in the Public Sphere and the Contestations of Secular Modernity in Turkey. Unpublished thesis. University of Pennsylvania, 2009 and Yael Navaro-Yashin. Faces of the State: Secularism and Public Life in Turkey. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002

[42] “Alkol oyumuzu artırır,” Hurriyet, 2/15/02. “ . . .Arınç, çağdaş ülkelerde her yerde içki satışının mümkün olmadığını savundu.” And “‘Kimesenin özel hayatına karışamayız; evinde, birahanede, meyhanede içebilir. Birahaneleri, meyhaneleri, gece külplerini ne kapatmak ne yasaklamak gibi bir düşüncemiz var. Ama kamuya açik yerde . . .”

[43] Article 4.h. İşyeri Açma ve Çalışma Ruhsatlarına İlişkin Yönetmelik. Available:

[44] İzgi Güngör. “Night team to protect public against alcohol in capital.” Turkish Daily News. 9/6/08

[45] “Erdoğan ends discussion about alcohol ban.” Turkish Daily News. 2/15/02. The Turkish Constitution is available online at:

[46] “War of words rages between Turkish ruling party, top business group.” Turkish Daily News. 5/27/11, “Arınç’tan TÜSİAD’a sert eleştiri.” Sabah. 5/27/11. “Boyner: İnternet yasakları hepimizi endişelendiriyor.” Yeni Safak. 5/4/11.