Erdoğan’s move is clearly intended to secure, and keep in stock, a more than 50 percent vote on route to becoming president. I should add that this merger move also has the psychological aim of reinforcing voter perception that there is “no alternative” to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
“Those parties which grow on populist ground lose their mission and sensitivities; however, the AK Party is opening its doors to diverse groups on a democratic platform as well as to different groups in its own basin without losing its essence,” writes Yalçın Akdoğan in the Star daily (July 17, 2012), and his comment offers us a good hint towards making sense of recent developments.
A ruling party’s merger with smaller parties that have similar ideologies will certainly be perceived as natural. But the columnists close to the government are trying to explain a political operation, which can be considered successful in its own right, using defensive language. Why? Thus, the phrases used in Akdoğan’s above-mentioned article such as “the party which maintains its growth trend” or “manifestation of the attempt at self-questioning and renewal” or “has not alienated its voters base or moved away from its original policies” can be seen more as signs of concern than as expressions of self-confidence. If such a merger is believed to create enthusiasm in the general public and in the minds of voters, why then is there an attempt to eliminate the doubts about the AK Party’s “legitimacy” and “commitment to its principles”?
In order to understand how its achievements during the last 10 years have moved the AK Party away from its mission and vision, it is enough to have a look at its performance, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum. The government made Parliament pass the legal amendments concerning match-fixing, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the judiciary in a snap, but it never rushed to amend the laws of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup era that protect the state. Was the Sept. 12 referendum held just to allow the government to bring additional protective armor to the military and civilian bureaucracy? Should we explain the prime minister’s thanking the generals for their “transparency” concerning the Uludere tragedy -- in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed by military air strikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district, due to false intelligence -- by referring to the government’s recent tendency to perceive itself as the “state” and therefore not to allow anyone to harshly criticize the state?
The legal restrictions recently imposed on the fight against bribery, corruption and organized crime should be seen as part of which vision? The fear of getting rid of bad apples will make both the AK Party and the country lose.
The AK Party’s merger with the HAS Party is nothing to be ashamed of. Even this small party’s realization that it cannot make much progress in this political climate can be considered a success in itself. Those who fail to understand why the AK Party’s vision and mission is being questioned, despite a successful operation, should just have a look at the bills the government drafts and sends to Parliament. The general public has started to realize that the AK Party has unfortunately stopped being the driving force behind the change. Thus, former hawkish politician Süleyman Demirel’s assertion, “You cannot rule this country, you just manage it” has become valid once again.
The AK Party is not returning to its National View (Milli Görüş) identity. Politically, this is already impossible. The government is just seeking to create a new group in order to prevent criticism from civil society and the public as well as potential departures from its voter base. Thus, former companions with a common past from the Milli Görüş movement and with common mental baggage are inserted into the AK Party, with some trimmings of course, in order to reinforce the “mechanical solidarity” within the party. A group of “hard-core” voters is being created in response to those who would raise objections based on democratic transformation, fairness and pluralism. To eliminate a catch-all party’s weakness for not having a fixed and loyal voter base, Erdoğan is tailoring a White View (AK Görüş) identity, à la Milli Görüş, to party organizations. He is designing a conformist AK Görüş ideology that would not raise objections to pro-state policies and that would ensure blind loyalty to the party.
The AK Party is not growing; it is just expanding. It rests on populism, not on authenticity. The AK Party is competing with the AK Party. Thus, it will be compared to its lustrous past, and it will have to vie against its own shadow.