Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) rose to prominence thanks to several factors, but a decisive one was its pro-social stance on justice. Those in shanty towns and ghettos who voted for the leftist or social democrat parties were attracted by the RP’s “just order” rhetoric.
This, coupled with the party’s efficiency in municipal governments, its religion-friendly attitude -- which is more influential than class division -- and its anti-corruption image, paved the way for the party’s election victories in both local and general elections. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) rests on this RP heritage. If the opposition parties want to defeat the AKP, they need to focus on these points.
Its RP heritage alone does not, of course, explain the AKP’s victories; that is a little bit more complicated. In addition to the above-mentioned positive aspects, the RP had a negative face too, embodied in the National Outlook doctrine. It was Islamist and claimed to have a monopoly on the truth. It was anti-West and anti-EU. It had confrontational rather than conciliatory rhetoric. It did not espouse dialogue, tolerance and acceptance as positive virtues, and rather dismissed people with those virtues as children or as puppets of either the US or Zionists. The party also gave an impression of espousing a top-down social engineering approach in order to Islamize society against its wishes. When AKP leaders adamantly declared that they had removed the National Outlook garment, it was this negative face that they were referring to.
When we look at today’s Turkey, after 10 years of AKP rule, we see that despite its tremendous success, the party has understandably been unable to solve all of Turkey’s socio-economic problems, and much remains to be done. The crux of the matter is that the party seems to have lost its enthusiasm and energy to tackle these problems, and even the ethos driving it to do so. Most people continue to vote for the AKP just because there is not a credible alternative. Yet they are aware that the party has started to suffer the problems that plagued the RP’s opponents in the late 1980s and 1990s. The party has become a status quo party that cares about its own power more than any other concern. It lacks vision, clear road maps and concrete projects to solve socio-economic problems -- aside from building projects. But even this feeds the belief that the party is involved in these projects to make building contractors in its close circle richer, creating its own fat-cat tycoons. We are witnessing the “ANAPization” of the AKP; Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party (ANAP) rose to power in the early 1980s with zeal, enthusiasm, positive energy and clear road maps, but in less than a decade it went astray.
No one can deny that under AKP rule, Turkey has become richer. But there are crucial dimensions that need to be taken into account. First, people’s expectations have grown too. Now, for instance, everybody wants to buy a car and to own a flat. A decade ago, most of them could not even dream about this. Yet very few people can afford it. Instead, they keep watching pro-AKP figures who were their economic equals a decade ago getting richer and richer. Small business owners and shopkeepers have been shutting down their businesses, unable to compete with the mushrooming shopping centers (AVMs) that are, unlike in the West, opening in every neighborhood. These former small business owners have only three options before them: the first is to become unemployed, and the second and third are to work as either security staff or in janitorial positions in these AVMs or for big businesses. There is no need to mention that they are paid peanuts, and I have no idea how they survive. Nobody, including the trade unions and “Islamic” businessmen, cares much about the terrible salaries of the workers.
The Gini index, which measures the distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households, says that distribution has not grown worse in Turkey during the AKP’s tenure, but nor has it improved much. Thus, as previously, Turkey is in terrible shape in terms of income distribution and living conditions; almost 20 percent of Turkey’s population lives below the poverty threshold. As far as I am aware, there are no well-defined education and training policies for adults to facilitate a healthy transformation of the labor force. This means that if they cannot find a “miraculous” way to become rich, or at least to survive, many are destined to apply for minimal unemployment benefits and be thankful for the AKP’s grace.
I have not even mentioned corruption, which needs dedicated research. Let me say this much: The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) cannot challenge the AKP on this basis, because of their performance at the municipal government level! They will know what I mean. A pro-democratization and reform party that can also emulate the positive aspects of the RP, with a more leftist or social democratic approach, and that can focus on the above-mentioned weaknesses of the AKP, will be successful in Turkey in the medium-term.