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November 01, 2012, Thursday

AKP at crossroads: the historic paradox

The more it has been able to accumulate power in its leader and around itself, the more visible the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) weaknesses and limitations have become.

This is the paradox which has surfaced, as this immensely popular engine of normalization and carrier of social transformation prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the executive on Saturday.

“It seems Turkey has come to the end of an era. We have reached a point beyond which we can no longer continue to carry our old burdens,” wrote Markar Esayan in a powerful article published here yesterday. This is only one of the voices of sound reason heard from various corners of the collective wisdom for change. As the paradox deepens, dissent will become louder.

When the large cadres of the AKP gather tomorrow in Kızılcahamam, near Ankara, in its traditional “camp,” the main question for outsiders will be whether or not there will be an open, fearless debate about the critical crossroads the party is approaching.

Two fresh developments seem to expose the “second thoughts” -- within the party and among its supporters in the bureaucracy in Ankara. The first is the aftermath of the Republic Day events. We know that this has helped reveal friction between President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The rather subtle, but visibly tense, exchange of words by the two is a powerful objective reality. It has to do with the differences of approach between them in dealing with dissent -- however acrimonious -- and in being able to control social peace, democratically or otherwise.

We know that Gül, foreseeing severe clashes in the capital on Republic Day, intervened and made the demonstrations of the opposition possible. As the positions of the two become clear, so the critical gap between them widens.

We seem closer to a “point of no return” for both of them, signaling new battlegrounds in the upcoming two years.

The second has to do with the hunger strikes of imprisoned Kurdish activists. This situation is gaining urgency, no matter how much the media -- once more demonstrating its nationalistic reflexes -- waters it down. Also, the subpoenas for 10 Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies are being prepared, with a vote in Parliament to lift their immunities.

The BDP strikes back, saying, “We are ready for anything, and prepare for wider action.” In the broader picture, the impasse on the Kurdish issue has to do with the fact that Erdoğan’s choice to stick by the so-called Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) operations (in such a murky manner), in a state of self-confidence after the last elections, has backfired severely. In Berlin, he was also reminded of the impact of opening Pandora’s box, when thousands of Alevis there voiced discontent over his immobility on reform.

Erdoğan at this stage pursues two paths: He puts the pedal to the metal on projects of modernization -- a huge housing project in İstanbul called “1453,” another in Taksim Square, a huge new airport west of İstanbul and many others -- but pulls the handbrake on democratization.

His plan for the next two years is based on this double-edged position, as he launches a mass campaign to become the first fully empowered, elected president. But the current picture is much more about heavy risks than successes. Impatience and anxieties about social peace are present (the constitutional commission is stuck on “red lines”), and various projects may strain the economy to its limits (nobody, for example, knows how the new airport, which will cost $50 billion, is to be financed.)

How will the AKP react, as it enters its second decade in power? The party is entering murky waters, because its internal engine, the vital diversity, will now be put to the test. We all know that the AKP is not all about Erdoğan; it is bigger than its leader. Its rational elements are in place.

Gül now openly exhibits dismay about the government’s roadmap and methods, and there are others who may come to the limits of their patience if this severely vertical, rigid, confrontational style of politics persists. In other words, the tighter Erdoğan turns the screws, the greater the risk of cracks appearing; not immediately, but in due course. It will be, in the end, all about Turkey’s democracy.

Previous articles of the columnist