Emerging trends

As the elections draw closer, competition between parties seems to be only one of the issues.

There are two important phenomena. The first is the incumbent Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) ability to hold onto its electoral mass. The second issue is how substantial is the measured attrition in the AKP’s support. Is it circumstantial or a lasting trend?

Electors are aware that the AKP has created a critical support base (called an electoral nucleus) that has kept it winning successive elections since 2002. But this time public opinion polls indicate a fall that may forbid a fourth electoral victory, although the party at this point emerges as the top contestant (around 40 percent).

Attrition in the nucleus may be due to two factors: 1) The AKP is becoming less able to repeat the achievements that carried it to victory in previous elections. 2) The AKP is losing the consistency between its rhetoric and deeds, or the values it claims to hold and implementations that contradict them. This alludes to a crisis of confidence that is growing between the party leadership and the rank and file.

If we surmise that these are the factors that have led to the attenuation of party support, how much of it may be attributed to the rising competitive ability of other parties and how much of it is due to the AKP’s own failure? We do not yet have a definite answer to these questions.

Yet some research results point to the fact that several perceived failures (especially in foreign policy and polarization tactics in internal politics) can no longer be balanced with economic achievements. The middle income trap has tightened its grip a failure to build an efficient economy supported by sustainable, high-technology-driven production a lack of transparency in government transactions and political concerns over economic rationality are among the factors that have halted economic growth and increased unemployment. The ideologically driven educational system does not provide the qualified manpower needed for a modern economy and society.

Can this situation be called the beginning of the questioning of the quotIslamist project” represented by the AKP? This is a legitimate question because the conservative and the pious members of the electorate have witnessed the failure of the grandiose “New Ottomanism” that was envisaged to carry Turkey into regional leadership. The excessive overconfidence experienced as a result of the launch of New Ottomanism as the basis of Turkish foreign policy (at least in the near abroad) has led to great disappointment that has not yet been compensated for by other means.

Secondly, graft and corruption that are more than hearsay have led to an attenuation of the moral values that carried the AKP to power in the first place. This party’s efforts to upgrade Turkey’s legal, political and economic standards by bringing them closer to universal standards in its first two terms in office seems to have been reversed. The rule of law has been replaced by arbitrariness. Anti-corruption initiatives have been interpreted as a coup against the government and averted by the reshuffling of established judicial and law enforcement agencies.

All of these left an imprint on the conservative and pious groups that value the religious principles of justice, honesty and virtuousness. However, their nascent criticism has not yet turned into self-judgment of their loyalty to the party or the party’s integrity.

The AKP leadership’s efforts to put the blame on foreign powers (enemies) and their internal accomplices worked in the first instance, but is far from being convincing now.

The electoral nucleus of the AKP is faced with another challenge besides the discrepancy between the party leadership’s declared values and deeds, and party practice and promises. This is the transformation of the “Islamist project/movementquot into a disciplined party structure and carrying it one step forward and putting it under the strict control of one man. This transformation is formulized by abandoning the 150-year-old parliamentary system and adopting a presidential system. People are increasingly aware of the fact that this is not a systemic necessity but the desire of the AKP leadership (especially the president) to consolidate their power and become more unaccountable.

This phenomenon puts a great burden on the voters of the AKP. The election results will show how they will respond to the moral and political challenge they face. Their decision will reveal what kind of a society the Turkish people want to be.