How the AKP lost its way
Turkey’s former president Abdullah Gul gave an extensive interview last week to the Turkish daily Karar, one of few newspapers that has not yet joined the pro-government choir. Gul had so far avoided outright criticism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which he is a founder.
In 2014, when Gul’s term as president was coming to an end, there was an expectation that Recep Tayyip Erdogan would become president and Gul would replace him as leader of the AKP, and would then become a member of parliament and later prime minister; Gul actually shared this idea with media.
However, the AKP hastily decided to hold the party congress one day before Gul’s presidential term ended, closing the door on his participation in the congress and his candidacy for the chairmanship.
This was widely viewed as unfair on a leader who played an important role as the initiator of the AKP, its first prime minister and its first president. Nevertheless, Gul refrained from openly criticizing his former party.
Efforts to keep Gul away from the party did not stop there. There had been a widespread expectation that Gul would contest the June 2015 elections, but after a visit to his office by former army chief Gen. Hulusi Akar and presidential adviser Ibrahim Kalın, Gul announced that he would not be a candidate.
In his newspaper interview last week, Gul covered almost every important issue that the Turkish public is following. I will concentrate on two: Political Islam, and the Turkish presidential system.
As the AKP consolidated its position in Turkey’s domestic policy, it became assertive, even oppressive - the fundamental rights and freedoms regressed and, from the beginning of 2010 the downfall became widespread.
Gul said political Islam had collapsed everywhere. Because of the secular character of Turkey’s constitution, the AKP had not tried to introduce such an ideology. However, as the party expanded its control to state institutions, it was tempted to do so. Gul’s reference to the collapse of political Islam was perhaps a warning to the ruling party that it should distance itself from an ideology that had already failed everywhere else.
The steadily increasing number of “Imam Hatip” schools in Turkey and the amendments in the school curriculums reducing for positive sciences brought down Turkey’s rating in education in the world.
The second important issue that Gul commented on is the presidential system, introduced in Turkey with a referendum in 2017. It is like neither the US nor French presidential systems. The AKP government attributes its discrepancies to the fact that the system has not yet settled; in fact, what is missing are the checks and balances that are essential for democracy in several other countries. Many political parties in Turkey vowed that when (and if) they come to power, they will organise another referendum to go back to the parliamentary system. Gul openly opposed the presidential system and expressed his strong support for the parliamentary system.
Gul also commented on the AKP. He restated that there was a strong need to return to the principles that moved the founders to establish the party, mainly more democracy and an open-minded approach to problems. As a leader, Gul played a crucial role in the promotion of these ideals. I, too, was among the founders; we all believed that Turkey could become a model country if it were to achieve these ideals.
In the first seven or eight years the party performed well. The economy flourished, fundamental rights and freedoms developed, and Turkey used its soft power to improve its relations with neighbors. Many countries wanted to be inspired by moderate Islam as it was practiced in Turkey.
As the AKP consolidated its position in Turkey’s domestic policy, it became assertive, even oppressive. The fundamental rights and freedoms regressed and, from the beginning of 2010 the downfall became widespread in all areas of governance.
Gul’s interview may be a sign of other underlying problems in Turkey’s political arena.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar