It has passed two benchmarks: the referendum on partial changes to the Constitution and the national elections last year. The direction of the vote in the two events gave strength to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and consolidated its power. And it put the leadership of the AKP before a crucial choice: It would either convert the consolidation into collectivization of power, or a personification of it.
The choice is falling upon the latter. The next curve to be watched, therefore, is the historically important congress -- due at the end of this month -- of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party. The reason is simple: It will be a litmus test for the AKP to either turn into a strictly vertical structure, where decision-making on a highly personal level will be ensured, or it will be able to keep some gates open to remain devoted to its roots, composed of a blend of opinion and visions, initially united for a massive democratic change in society.
The powerfully possessive and defensive management style of Erdoğan, particularly visible since the national elections in June of last year, turned into a single magnet, with its both sides very active.
The plus side of the magnet has been staunchly pulling in selected forces -- mainly stemming from Milli Görüş (National View) -- which have warmed thoroughly to the sense of comformism and arrivism. The minus side pushes away -- seemingly in a systematic manner -- all other parts of the society which so far backed the policies, whether tactically or in strong devotion, nevertheless wisely and benevolently.
This is doomed to have strong consequences in politics to come, and with immediate effect. The personification of power, though many loyal AKP followers would deny it, is bringing Turkey closer to what it stayed away from for all this time the AKP ruled: Backed with a stable, powerful economy; by keeping a vivid but obedient, silent middle class, Turkey risks turning into one of those Central Asian republics where pluralism, dissent, courage and freedom are terms that cause a great allergy and systematic oppression.
Intents to shift towards that model, by comparison to other examples of history, also attract and divert the elements that remained intact in bureaucracy to act like chameleons: They willingly switch sides and continue to do so. Once the viciously resistant “ancien régime” started to see both where the power is and also its limitations and real aims, it has been moving in, changing loyalty but not ideology, to entrench itself to preserve whatever is left of the state's old, unwanted features.
Will Erdoğan's choice as the single, unchallenged ruler for the next decade work? One point is clear: The AKP after the congress will be a very different one from the one before. With the decisions taken there, it will have completed its 10-year cycle, and will be seen as a party tempted by political greed. It has started being perceived as such. Economic policies aside, disgruntlement is growing.
The choice of a new path might be seen as a copy of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) model, but the similarity just stops there: Japan has been ruled by a strong, democratic consensus; a civilian constitution, with freedoms intact. It has also been known for its work ethic.
Turkey, with its democratization process pushed aside as an unfinished symphony, is very different. What Erdoğan and his close circle seem to (choose to) disregard is the immense undercurrents that the AKP's reform policies have unleashed. Pandora's box is now fully open. Not a day passes without some person or social group expressing dissent or making demands, causing only anger by the leadership because it prefers conformism of power.
Roughly speaking, four segments act with anxiety as they are more and more alienated from having a say in normalization. The first ones are the liberals (from the left or the right) who continue to be vocal in whatever remained of the non-partisan or “untamed” media. They have been crucial in conceptualizing and carving ahead the reformist path. They will always remain strong, part of the universal segment for reform and freedom.
The second is the Hizmet movement -- visionary and benevolently instrumental for economic growth and carrying out democratic change to a society based on peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and diversity endowed with constitutional rights.
The third part is, certainly, the most staunchly vocal of them all -- the Kurds. Their demands on human rights are either to be met by a wall -- or bridges. And the fourth: the Alevis, not as tough or socially solid as the Kurds, also have their genies out of the bottle.
The AKP's move to distance itself from its primary task -- democracy -- will have very high costs. Alienating and demonizing the others that are not “us” is on the agenda. The party's collective wisdom seems blurred, much of it lost, ringing alarm bells.