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The love affair between the AKP and the Kemalists will not last long
29 July 2016

In this op-ed Murad Nassibeyli discusses relations between Turkey's ruling AK Party and the secularist political forces in the aftermath of the 15 July failed coup. Murad Nassibeyli is an independent political commentator from Azerbaijan. He contributed this op-ed for commonspace.eu.

The current developments in Turkey need to be considered within the wider context of events during the term of AKP governments since 2002. Until the AKP-Cemaat divorce in 2012, the politics in Turkey was all about the struggle for power between the Islamist AKP-Cemaat alliance and secular Kemalists. It should also be mentioned here that the label of Kemalists, indeed, refers to a wide political audience ranging from nationalists to social democrats, with the army, police, national intelligence, bureaucracy, media and political parties - mainly the Republican People's Party (CHP). The main factors uniting them under the label of Kemalists are secularism and Republicanism - fundamentals of the political system in Turkey. In contrast, both the Cemaat and AKP are quite structuralized, and more or less homogenized groups.

During the period of Erdogan-led AKP governments, the AKP-Cemaat alliance managed to largely neutralize Kemalists within the Army through Ergenokon and Balyoz cases. However, it lasted until the dissolution of AKP-Cemaat alliance in the mid of 2012 as a result of the attempts by the Cemaat to further increase their power in the Parliament and within the state bodies to better control and harness AKP government towards the objectives of the Cemaat.

Thus, the AKP-Cemmaat alliance vs. secular Kemalists duality was replaced with the triangle of AKP-Cemaat-Kemalists. The period since December 2013 witnessed diverse efforts by both AKP and the Cemaat to gain the partnership of Kemalists against the other.  With the start of confrontation between AKP and Gulen led Cemaat, Erdogan was constantly sending inviting messages to Kemalist groups to gain their support against the Cemaat network. Most of those officers arrested in the cases of Ergenekon and Balyoz were released. And, the explanation was very direct and simple: it was the Cemaat who was responsible for the crackdown on the Turkish Army.  Yet, of course, government critics have been consistently questioning such a simple explanation pointing out the support given to them by the AKP government until the mid of 2012. Such a situation increased the potential influence of Kemalists on the internal politics. However, it lasted only a short time, and did not give much maneuver opportunity to Kemalist groups to necessarily influence the design of politics in this period. It is in this context that the failed coup attempt should be considered.

The failed attempt by the Cemaat linked high level army generals and officers, hoping for, and possibly relying on promises of Kemalist within the Army, have largely clarified the relationship between Kemalists and the AKP government. Currently, not only at the high level but also at the level of ordinary people, Erdogan is largely enjoying the support of Kemalists. The rationale behind their support to Erdogan's crackdown on the Cemaat is mainly that cleansing the Cemaat from the state institutions, and curbing their influence in the country, could only be possible under such a powerful authoritarian leader as Erdogan -  who has already tightly consolidated power in his hands. The CHP does not have the capacity, and actually it is not even in its nature because it is not that kind of political party, to implement such a policy. The way of changing the current government is clear and exists, and one day, sooner or later, Erdogan and AKP will lose power. In contrast, the way of cutting the influence of the Cemaat within the political system is unclear, very complicated, and would cause much criticism from outside, which is better faced by Erdogan and his party, and let them pay the price of international criticism and the loss of some local support. With such a rationale, the current policies and behavior of the government, which are at many points in contradiction with Kemalist principles, are perceived to be more or less tolerable by Kemalists.

Secondly, Kemalist groups, positioned at higher levels of different state bodies, including the Army might see siding with AKP as a way of avoiding another crackdown on themselves.

Thirdly, given huge popular support that Erdogan personally, and his AK party, enjoy, any successfully coup could damage the already much suffered image of the Army, draw Turkey into chaos which might threaten its statehood in general, and give the Cemaat better chances to further increase their influence. A new Cemaat supported centrist party could emerge and gain power. Obviously, at the heart of all this reasoning is distrust and dislike that Kemalists have towards the Cemaat.

Nevertheless, the issue of whether to side with Erdogan and his party in his current crackdown, and further power consolidation campaign, is not just finely accepted by all Kemalists. Some see it much more risky compared to others, fearing the AKP will further threaten the fundamentals of the secular and democratic system in Turkey.

In one sense, Kemalists also emerged as winners, along with Erdogan and AKP. The "Peace and Democracy" mass demonstration organized by CHP on 24 June in Taksim square in Istanbul was also supported by AKP groups. On the following day, Erdogan, held a "Leaders' Summit", bringing together Bahcheli, leader of MHP and Kilichdaroglu, leader of CHP along with his Prime Minister in the Aksaray, the controversial new presidential palace. All this could be a sign of future compromises between Kemalists and AKP. The extent of such successful compromises would prove how much the risks that some Kemalists see in further strengthening of Erdogan's grip on the country could be real. Thus, the issue of state fundamentals - secularism and democracy - will be high on agenda for the near future of Turkish politics, mainly in the interaction between CHP and AKP. Even if AKP assure Kemalists on the issue of secularism, the issue of democracy in the context of further power consolidation in Erdogan's hands, and his push for transformation into a strong presidential republic, will be the main topic of upcoming years of the Turkish politics. Thus, one should not expect the current approximation between Kemalists and AKP to be a long lasting factor in Turkish politics.

Murad Nassibeyli is an independent political commentator from Azerbaijan. He contributed this op-ed for commonspace.eu.

Photo: President Erdogan meeting leaders of the opposition CHP and MHP at the presidential palace on 26 July 2016. (photo courtesy of the Turkish presidency)

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