What’s behind the AKP government’s restlessness?

Today, the ruling AKP government is seeking a new consolidation formula that does not rely on voter support. Instead, it shall rely on a survival rhetoric spearheaded by MHP leader Bahçeli and based on the alleged “local and national” majority.

For the past few weeks, a climate of political restlessness in Turkey has been rather unfit for the pandemic. Though what lies ahead of us in the post-corona era remains unclear, Turkey, on the other hand, was quick to return to its usual political troubles. What is more, for some, certain issues have proved more salient than coronavirus-related problems.

As the pandemic carries on, the list of grievances and problems has grown exponentially. After what was only his first pandemic crisis meeting, President Erdoğan had no qualms in castigating the opposition. Those who reacted to this, voiced their concerns at the government’s management of the crisis or saw opportunities in it, further contributed to the President’s agenda. 

I’ve been discussing the President’s political agenda in several recent articles I wrote for three different media outlets. All share holistic approaches. From the comments I got for those pieces, I gather that some of the issues I discuss ought to be elaborated. Hence, I decided to provide answers to the following five questions:

Is the situation unprecedented? 

First of all, the government is at the heart of this political restlessness. The public debates, claims, allegations and resulting steps taken, almost all stem from government circles. Because of this obvious situation, it is often said that the government is seeking political change. In order to assess this claim, one should examine whether another effective agenda has been established. One should also look into the people behind such an agenda. Excluding tactical attacks, the government does not appear to be undertaking an overall change of strategy. On the contrary, in fact, rather than seeking a new way, it is having recourse to old ways and methods, though in a renewed and overhauled manner. That is what gives the illusion of a new situation. 

Is the government removing all the obstacles that stand in its way?

Within the debates regarding the rising political tensions, the dominating view holds that the government is attempting to bolster its power and remove the obstacles hindering this goal. A number of explanations are put forward. While some argue the government is seeking to consolidate its voter base and call for snap elections, others contend it is paving the way for fully-fledged authoritarianism and do away with elections altogether. Such claims are backed by the government’s moves against opposition figures and its blatant threats. In recent times, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has become a main target. Besides, the frequent assaults on media and civil society institutions corroborate this. A government’s ability to endure has to do with its actual competence and the nature of the opposition. But there little the government can do to remove its most formidable obstacle, that of structural and unsolvable problems. 

Snap elections or no elections at all? 

Rumors of a new alliance and statements from Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who is an active partner of a coalition with the AKP, were considered signs of imminent snap elections. Yet those who closely monitor Bahçeli’s moves know that he is well capable of preventing such developments as much he can spur them. Besides, changing the election system is no easy feat. Regardless, whether an early or timely election is held, or even none at all, what is certain is that there is change. The government no longer trusts an arithmetic system to guarantee its victory. As a result, it is experimenting with the value of elections. The President wants to retain control of both the timing and rules of elections. While he cannot alter their results, he has demonstrated an ability to undermine their importance by refusing to recognize them. Hence, the President has been seeking to prevent elections from presenting hazards to his hegemony. 

Will the government sustain its efforts to consolidate its power? 

It is obvious that the government has embarked on a strategy to consolidate its power. Yet it is merely experimenting. The “immovable vote consolidation” that the government sought to guarantee through its alliance with the MHP is not immutable. The notion of an inevitable and overwhelming nationalist majority did not last more than two years. And the coup attempt could do little to salvage it. Today, the government is seeking a new consolidation formula that does not rely on voter support. Instead, it shall rely on a survival rhetoric spearheaded by Bahçeli and based on the alleged “local and national” majority. According to the government’s rhetoric, “local and national values” should prevail and be obeyed. But those are arbitrarily defined and used as a source of undemocratic tutelage. Challenging the ruling party, which has self-proclaimed itself as the “protector” of national and local values, is now considered a coup. Still, wary of the fact that this new formula could fail, the government continues to look for alternative solutions to sustain its dominance. This distress, in turn, explains its restlessness.

September 14, 2021 Election threshold engineering