20 Years of AKP (2): The State of Emergency and the Downfall that Started with the Authoritarian System
The 2015 parliamentary elections took place amid a vibrant opposition environment caused by the Gezi Park protests and the momentum of the Kurdish opposition, which had recovered from repression. Then AKP Chair Davutoglu did not do well in the elections, and the AKP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time, especially as the political party of the Kurdish political movement HDP crossed the parliamentary threshold with a high number of votes. However, the distribution of parliamentary seats required the formation of a coalition between the largest opposition party, the CHP, and at least two other parties, of which the Turkish nationalist MHP never agreed to be under the same roof as the Kurdish HDP. So the AKP and the CHP began negotiating a grand coalition.
After losing the power due to the rise of the Kurdish HDP, Erdogan put an end to the resolution process and set the stage for war and conflict in the southeast of the country. During the same period, ISIS and PKK terrorist attacks contributed to legitimizing a discourse towards security policies. Taking advantage of this environment, Erdogan called early elections in November, only three months after the elections in June.
The AKP won the elections by a wide margin and regained sole power, which took place in a climate of chaos. Erdogan, uncomfortable with Davutoglu acting independently, deposed him in an internal party coup and appointed his loyalist Binali Yildirim as party chairman.
On July 15, 2016, Turkey was shaken by a coup attempt by the Gulen movement. The attempted coup, which was carried out by mobilizing loyal elements within the military to the movement, failed, and a state of emergency was imposed on the country. People close to the movement were imprisoned, while their sympathizers within the state were liquidated. Numerous people in the opposition unrelated to them were also expelled from universities and the bureaucracy.
Erdogan utilized such an environment to hold a referendum on an authoritarian presidential system in order to gain full control of the country. Under a state of emergency and great pressure, the referendum was narrowly approved with a 51.41% vote and the new system was put in place with early elections in 2018. Erdogan won the elections and became the first president of the new authoritarian presidential system.
Downfall: New Presidential Regime
Following the presidential elections, Turkey was plunged into an economic crisis. The exchange rate against the USD rose from around 4.50 to 6.50. The reasons for the deterioration of most economic indicators included the collapse of the country's legal system, the loss of confidence of foreign investors and Erdogan's heterodox economic policies. After another crisis in 2021, the dollar exceeded 18.50 by the end of 2022, and inflation is over 80%.
Under the presidential regime, the country's institutions have been eroded, and Erdogan's words and opinions have literally become the sole compass on all agenda items. The independence of institutions has been lost, and the AKP has become fused with the state. Dissenting statements in traditional and social media have become punishable by prison sentences, and young people have begun to leave the country.
The 2019 local elections marked a turning point. The AKP lost mayoralties in major cities it had long held, such as Istanbul and Ankara. Many observers believe this displays the loss of support for the AKP. The outcome of the parliamentary elections to be held in 2023 remains to be seen, but the AKP has never been so close to falling from power.
20 years in power: how come?
Despite its ups and downs, the factors that bind the AKP to its constituency have always been a subject of debate. Murat Belge, one of Turkey's most prominent thinkers, argues in the intellectual journal Birikim that there is a possibility that the tide will turn and that one should ask whether the main reason is freedoms or the economy.
Murat Belge writes: "Are the current state of the judiciary and the nightmares of the ‘one-man regime’ small problems? Aren't there heaps of incidents from which society can choose to say, ‘Enough is enough! Get lost!’? Undoubtedly, there are many people who will not vote for the AKP because of these problems (including many who have voted for the AKP before). Nevertheless, the majority has come to this point because of the price of this or that.
I am afraid that this behavior is not due to ignorance or lack of knowledge that is connected to a kind of ‘political naiveté.’ I think that those who vote for the government also see how partisan it is. But as long as the government protects their interests, they will just keep voting that way."
Journalist Mustafa Karaalioglu, a longtime supporter of the AKP who has recently withdrawn his support, says that it's true that the AKP has freed the country from military tutelage, but the tutelage over law and democracy has only changed its form. According to Karaalioglu, "Religious visibility has taken its rightful place in the public and public sphere, but this time other lifestyles began to feel threatened.
The fundamental error that has led to the current situation is that the AKP has moved away from the goals it set for itself 20 years ago and has opted for increasingly personalized power. Needless to repeat, the sense of democracy, respect for the law, common sense, merit and competence have been gradually weakened; this weakness has affected all areas, from the economy to foreign policy, from education to social life. The goals have been missed and regression in many areas has become inevitable."
In his broadcast on his own media platform Medyascope, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir points out the impact of the important foreign alliances that the AKP made in its early years. According to Cakir, the AKP and the Erdogan government leaned heavily on the European Union, especially due to the process of full EU membership. Cakir says the AKP started as a grassroots movement, but today only Erdogan remains, and the AKP has been reduced to Erdogan.