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January 14, 2014, Tuesday

Source and limitations of AK Party’s power

The Institute of Social Research (ISR) at Michigan University recently conducted a survey in seven countries with a Muslim majority regarding preferences related to the practice of Muslim women covering their heads.

A picture with five versions of a covering, ranging from a burqa that hides even the eyes to a loosely tied scarf that left the hair at the front exposed, was presented. Of the Turkish respondents, 46 percent preferred the head covering that is worn by the wives of top politicians today. While 4 percent prefer a more conservative type, 17 percent indicated a preference for a more open wrap that exposes some hair. Altogether, those who prefer some kind of head covering for women make up 67 percent of the public in Turkey. Those who selected the option of no head covering constitute another 32 percent of the population.

These figures illustrate the cultural climate that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government draws on. This climate existed before the AK Party and will persist after its demise. What the AK Party did was to activate it and make the value system and cultural traits that are more prevalent today in Turkey more acceptable.

People who were marginalized and kept at the political and economic periphery since the declaration of the republic were included and brought into the system with the AK Party government. Empowered and emboldened, people heretofore excluded because they were parochial, conservative, religious and non-Western established their own way in the bureaucracy, political and economic life of the country.

This is obvious in all walks of life where religious references are abundantly used. The political authority that ought to represent a secular state, from time to time talks about obtaining a “fatwa” (religious opinion) from theologians or consulting religious scholars on worldly affairs.

Fundamental changes took place in 2002 after the parochial/peripheral, local/rural, religious/conservative and non-Western majority legitimately ended the political dominance of the secular, Western-oriented and urban minority that ruled the country and dictated its preferences by way of its control over the state machinery. The AK Party served as the vehicle to carry vast numbers of people to the economic and political center by mobilizing them under its organizational structure. They became central and local government functionaries and professional employees of privatized state enterprises. They built businesses or expanded their small businesses by benefiting from state contracts, support and incentives. Not only did they become culturally prominent, but they became politically and economically empowered. And they loved it.

These groups benefited greatly from a fast-growing economy that was opened up to international markets and tripled the national income. These groups owe their upward mobility and improved living standards to the AK Party. They would defend their newly won positions and advantages against all odds. They see the AK Party's demise as their own loss and, so, an existential problem. They are loyal supporters that would support the party until it cannot hold out any more. They see politics not as a competition but rather as an existential battle.

The AK Party leadership is quite aware of this fact. That is why it is using phrases like “being under the threat of an international conspiracy backed up by national villains,” and, “We are faced with a war of independence.”

As politics become polarized, it tends to cross legal boundaries. The government is doing everything possible to control the judiciary to prevent damage to itself from charges of graft and corruption.

How this crisis ends will be determined by the public's acceptance of the government's claim that there is a “parallel state” (or gang) in the bureaucracy that must be eliminated if its partnership in the international plot must be aborted and that the corruption charges are either ephemeral or fabricated.

It will take a lot for electoral support for the AK Party to change, but can the party hold on to its supporters no matter what? Only the economy may make a difference. So far, the current political crisis has diminished the value of the Turkish lira by 15 percent in a matter of six weeks. Incoming money has seriously decreased. We know that Turkey's domestic savings are insufficient for its investments. The country has to borrow. A political crisis may make it harder to borrow and increase its price, lowering levels of production.

If structural changes are not realized soon and stability does not return to the country, loyal supporters may have second thoughts.

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