The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will convene for a congress next month. Turkey's recent past has been a cemetery for political parties. The MHP is a 40-year-old political party, while the AK Party has been around for only eight years. Since a representative democracy functions with political parties, we must look at political parties as the owners of and driving force behind political problems and political change. The AK Party has held a very special place in this short period of time.
If the time between the establishment of a party and its coming to power is taken as a gauge, then the Motherland Party (then ANAP, now ANAVATAN) has the record, as it became the sole governing party just months after being founded in 1983. In our rich history of political parties, the AK Party comes in second. The party is only eight years old, and the AK Party government is seven years old. It managed to become the single ruling party a year after it was founded and managed to remain in power for a second term, just like ANAVATAN. Like individuals, political parties also have an identity, a character and their own adventures. ANAVATAN will merge with the Democrat Party (DP) this month and surrender its legal existence over to the DP. It will mark the end of a 26-year history. What does the future hold for the AK Party, which opened its eyes to the world while in power? The AK Party congress to be held today will be an opportunity to deliberate and make decisions.
Did the cartel party model collapse?
If ANAVATAN and the AK Party were to be compared, there would be two very important differences between their experiences. ANAVATAN managed to stay in power in the 1987 elections despite a tragic plunge in votes. The AK Party, however, secured an unprecedented increase in votes in the 2007 elections. The only other time a political party showed such a success was in the 1954 elections, when the DP garnered more votes in its second term. When we look at sociological differences instead of concrete comparisons based on election results, we must pay attention to the representational characteristics of the parties.
The DP, which took a majority of the vote in the 1950s election, represented ragged villagers. It became the ruling power by representing masses that had no political representation in the state. During its years in power, the DP extended the scope of its representational ability to include urban and wealthy classes that had been left out during the single party period. But the civil-military bureaucracy, which the DP had excluded, eventually retook control of the country on May 27, 1960. The Justice Party (AP), which made an impression in the 1960s, built its existence over a coalition of interests, just like a typical cartel party. In this party model, political patronage is the political goal. The party provided its supporters with state privileges and opportunities. In the 1980s, ANAVATAN advanced the coalition of political groups and began acting like a real cartel party as well. Unrivaled, it engaged in ostentatious activities and elevated its status over the rising economic classes. The infamous corruption cases during the ANAVATAN years were a natural result of the cartel party's groundwork.
The AK Party is not conforming to the cartel party model familiar to Turkey. The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the MHP do not represent the combination of the excluded interest groups. Our structure of party competition does not allow for parties to form a cartel. The reasons for this have to do with the raisons d'être of the AK Party, which brought new rules to the system of political competition.
A shrinking state and contracting politics
Recalling 2001, the year the AK Party was founded, is necessary to understand the reason the party continues to exist today. There was a complete cartel system in politics and the supporters of the cartel system were granted unfair competition privileges in the economy. The owners of large capital that were accustomed to feeding on unwieldy and unproductive state resources topped the list of those that benefited from those kinds of privileges. The unfair superiority that was granted to big capital owners, which bought money with money, just because they supported political cartels, was deadly for other large and small capital owners.
It was the greed and cannibalism of these interest groups that ultimately led to the collapse of the financial order. Turkey faced crises in 2000 and 2001. The year of the AK Party's birth was the year when the cartel system and the economy it devastated collapsed and the quest for new beginnings started. The capital class that had become intertwined with the state slowly became replaced by a new capital class that sought fair standards in competition and did not want the state to overshadow the market. Capital was in search of market security but the unfair competition triggered by the cartel party system eliminated security.
Let us compare today to seven years ago. What is left from the state's economic power? How much of what remains is in the hands of politicians? What can political patronage promise those that hope to utilize state resources? Taking a look at how much of the gross domestic product (GDP) is accounted for by the public sector is enough to answer these questions. Haven't independent administrative authorities or institutions that keep an eye on almost every sector put economic power outside of the scope of political control?
The search for social consensus: democratic initiative
The economy has been saved from the attack of the state or rather from the attack of those who seek to use the state for their own interests. Today, there is a capital order that has declared its independence from political interventions in Turkey. There is a capital order in which capital can move freely and safely in the market. But how independent is politics from the state? The leader of the AK Party himself has said that the “democratic initiative” is a “state project.” Does the state prepare a project and then order the AK Party government to put it into effect? Is that how it works? The government defends the democratic initiative as a “state project” in response to the opposition. But there is one very important point that public debate has revealed. The democratic initiative is actually a government-prepared project that has won the approval and support of state institutions. More precisely, the state power is searching for a way to transfer the responsibility and authority that it feels it no longer has the ability to aptly exercise to the political power. Just like how the state's economic power collapsed in 2001, today the state's traditional power has collapsed as well. The state power has lost the ability to fulfill its most basic responsibility, which is ensuring the unity of the country. Now the AK Party is in pursuit of using its power to reach a social consensus and establish unity between state and nation. This is the reason why it has opted for a political solution instead of a military solution. The state can no longer protect its existence and is surrendering its security and future to the hands of the government. If the AK Party government successfully implements the democratic initiative, then by transforming the state power it will make the state democratic, in other words it will leave it up to the people.
We are witnessing history change for the first time. Our political structure and the culture that influences this structure are undergoing radical changes. The bar for political competition has been raised. The state's economic power started to change seven years ago, and today the state's bureaucratic power is coming to an end. We are becoming democratic. There is no turning back from these changes. History, which we are taking part in, will answer the question, “What does the future hold for AK Party?” As for the people, well, they have many demands.
The AK Party's third extraordinary congress will be a milestone in the “democratic initiative.” Political parties must shape public opinion. Special focus is expected to be placed on the “initiative” during the congress today. The AK Party leader will most likely try to motivate its members to educate the people about the initiative, and this congress will be remembered as the “initiative congress.”