Istanbul re-election damaged AKP administration more than anythingelse and was very important as a big piece in the general selfdestruction of the party. Therefore I would like to talk about thedomestic and foreign conditions of the fall of Erdoğan regime whichseems to be more and more irreversible every day. After rising topower as the embodiment of the Islamist movement's revival in Turkeywith intense support from primarily USA, then EU and Gulf states whosaw the party as the flag carrier of democratization in Turkey, AKPbecame the Turkish representative of right wing authoritarianpopulism which saw a global rise after 2010's and this time tried totake advantage of the West turning a blind eye to increasingauthoritarianism. However, this last move to retain power onauthoritarian grounds was the beginning of its own exhaustion.
A different kind of crisis
This is not the first time Turkey is going through a political andeconomic crisis - these two usually are usually intertwined. For acountry like Turkey, a chronic or a deep rooted economic crisis meansa political crisis as well. AKP, during its long reign of power,gradually carried both itself and the country into a crisis likes ofwhich have never been seen before. Differing in many aspects fromexamples of the past, from AKP point of view this crisis seemspolitical, ideological and lately at local administrative level whilefrom the country's point of view it appears to be an economic crisis,a dead end in foreign policy and security concerns, plus erosion ofnorms and institutions such as judiciary, military, electionprocesses and university entrance exams. Furthermore, in addition tothe fact that Erdoğan administration seems to have no idea nor aplan about how to get out of this situation, it is doubtful they areeven aware nor have a will to be aware. From this perspective it isclear that AKP has put Turkey into a state of "multiple organfailure". Here lies the interesting point. AKP administration isliving this state of crisis in these conditions: they won everyelection since 2002, won 20-25 percent more votes than its closestopposition CHP which they could never have dreamed of before, createdthe most powerful possible alliance in Turkey in the shape of"Islamist-Nationalist" partnership, spent all its resourcesto create a capital owner class close to itself and received theirunconditional support, gained control of every single stateinstitution and won 42% of votes just last year in general elections.
Convenient international stage
Even more, current international stage dynamics are still in favorof AKP. AKP, when it first came to power, was a widely supportedproject as one of the examples to show the world that democratizationwith Islam is possible. Both the results of general and structuralcrises of capitalism, and the fact that moderate Islamism clearlydoes not work in the Middle East, pushed the West to give up on theirpolicy of reproducing a dependency relationship using regimes in theMiddle East which have legitimacy. After this point, which wasroughly 2013, AKP had no longer any value for the West other than itsneo-liberal policies that it still tightly clings onto. Realizingthis, Erdoğan and his team started searching for something new andended up in a nationalist Eurasia alliance.
As important elements of globalization, identity politics,democratization and human rights were for the first time falling outof favor with the Western system, and for the first since the mid80's, West was starting to ignore human rights violations andundemocratic practices in Turkey other than a few ostensible remarks.This was a heaven-sent blessing for AKP. Media was in total controlof the state, Istanbul capital owners were intimidated, nongovernmental organizations and opposition factions were suppressedvia unlawful arrests, and the army, at least as it seems from theoutside, was under AKP control. In these conditions, one cannot helpbut think, how is it possible that AKP politics are at a dead endwith so many facilities at hand and under such convenient conditions,both domestic and international.
Economic recession first comes to mind and is the most reasonableexplanation. As experts have analysed this matter extensively thereis no need to repeat those here. That being said, it would bebeneficial to talk about two critical points that have put AKP in atough situation and make its authoritarian example different fromothers. First, as seen in other instances of authoritarianism, after17 years, AKP at this point cannot blame previous administrations foreconomic recession, as it did back in 2002. Because of this it triedto shift the blame to "superior mind" but this did not havereceive any social response. Secondly, as we see in some Westernexamples, AKP was unable to blame Syrian and some other migrants foreconomic problems. In fact, the society was ready to accept such ablame. However, AKP could not go through with it because they areresponsible for it and they also thought they could take advantage ofit politically.
Building authoritarianism through alliances
During the process of building its authority, AKP had to openlyally with MHP and secretly ally with Vatan Party in the years2015-2016. This differed from other examples in the world. Thesituation brought up two fundamental difficulties: First, AKP becamedependent on MHP support to retain power and MHP's agenda became partof administration's political agenda, whether they liked it or not.MHP became a critical actor with some kind of veto power. Second, AKPcould not establish its authority with its own ideology. After aperiod of anti-nationalist discourse, AKP took one of its frequentu-turns and tried to create authority with a borrowed ideology withinan alliance. While trying to create this authority AKP had on itsside a loyal but still relatively weak capital group and a middleclass, while on the opposite site was an experienced, dynamic,resilient, open to the world, creative and secular middle class thatstill holds majority of the country's intellectual, artistic andmaterial production channels. AKP could not overcome the resistance,discourse and moral superiority of this opposition, it could notovercome its hegemony. As they clearly had to confess, AKP could notestablish its own hegemony. This made them dependent on force andpressure methods which they saw also had limits. Every time the statetried to use more pressure, it meant big blows to capital influx andaccumulation processes and AKP could not overcome this dilemma.
Foreign policy conundrum
To put it briefly, there has never been an administration inTurkey history that has willingly led foreign policy to so many deadends. AKP could have just stayed back against problems of Middle Eastand be a part of the solution, instead it chose to be a part of theproblem from the Gulf to Libya, from Palestine to Egypt.
Not only that, it got stuck between USA and Russia, USA and Iran,Saudi Arabia and Qatar, PLO and Hamas. Most importantly, AKPfoolishly tried to use Russia as a balancing element against USA andgot stuck in between. If it buys the S-400 system, USA will imposemilitary and economic sanctions, if it doesn't then Russia willpressure in Idlib. AKP's reign has seen relations with Syria hit rockbottom. Turkey became isolated and alone against Saudi Arabia, UAE,Jordan, Egypt and Israel on the Gulf line; against Egypt, Israel,Greece, Cyprus, EU and USA on the Eastern Mediterranean line.Meanwhile Russia invested in some natural gas search companies andtried to stay in the game.
Right now there is no adjective to describe AKP other thanauthoritarian. Not Islamist, not nationalist, not (conservative)democrat, not Western oriented, not Eurasia oriented, notanti-imperialist. We are facing an administration that tries to makeuse of all of these adjectives when time comes. An administrationthat cannot even define itself nor be defined by someone else, tryingto stay in power with day to day actions, progressing towards selfdestruction with every move it makes.
AKP has become an administration that is dependent on MHP domestically, on international foreign capital financially, on USA strategically and on Russia in terms of energy and in Syria. And instead of reducing these dependencies some of which have roots in the past, AKP added more to the list and deepened them. These created the external conditions for its fall from power. Municipal elections and especially the two-layered Istanbul defeat will be a trigger for the general downfall and be remembered as one of the final pieces of the picture.
*This abridged article first appeared on GazeteDuvar on June 24, 2019.
Who is İlhan Uzgel?
Since 1988, he worked at Ankara University, Political Sciences Faculty, International Relations Department. When he was head of department, he was discharged in February 2017. He did his post graduate studies in Ankara and Cambridge Universities; he received his Ph.D. from Ankara University. He did his doctoral and postdoctoral studies at LSE and Georgetown Universities; he lectured in Oklahoma City University. He received scholarships such as British Council, Jean Monnet and Fulbright. He focuses on US foreign policy, Turkish foreign policy and the Balkans. He is the author of several books.