Why does the AKP still rank as the number 1 political party?

AKP voters are no longer supporters of a mere party, but instead have adopted a new “political identity” over the years in line with Erdoğan's discourse. The opposition needs to come up with an alternative concept of “nation identity” if it wants to win over AKP voters “materially and spiritually.”

Yavuz Halat / DUVAR

Almost all of the surveys conducted in the past year show that the support level of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its coalition ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has decreased. Despite this, the opposition's support level is not increasing.

It would be normally expected of the votes from the AKP to shift towards the opposition parties. But this is not happening. The increase in the support level of İYİ (Good) Party cannot be also attributed to the voters cutting off their ties with the AKP. Instead, citizens who used to vote for the MHP and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) are now favoring İYİ Party.

And this is the case even with a rulership whose image has been damaged severely following a 20-year reign and whose many of its cadres have been involved in corruption. The real inflation has gone above 100 percent; the country's foreign debt has approached 150 billion dollars; and every 7 out 10 people in the country are in debt. Despite all this, the AKP is still able to attract more votes than any other party. What is it that holds the AKP in power and prevents it from breaking up with a political crisis?

It is possible to give a series of answers to this question: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's personal charisma, his ability to use the tools of oppression, his holding the media under his control, his agility in foreign policies, etc. Plus, the AKP is using all of the state's opportunities in the “best efficient way” possible. But all of this is still not enough to explain why the AKP sustains a support level above 30 percent (and 40 percent for Erdoğan).

The answer lies behind the sociocultural structure that the AKP has changed in the 10 years. Erdoğan defines his 2002-2007 period as apprenticeship, 2007-2012 period as overseership and the period after 2007 as mastership. Especially after the 2013 Gezi Park protests, it is possible to see that the AKP has undertaken “special transformations” in the sociocultural structure. In fact, it is possible to define these changes as attempts by Erdoğan to organize his followers and to transform “reactionism” into a political identity.

In summary, Erdoğan is trying to keep the mentality of Ottomanism/Turkish/Islamist sociocultural structure in place. This mentality did exist prior to the Republican times and could not be unfortunately cleared by the foundation of the Republic. And Erdoğan's fight is with the Republican regime and Kemalist ideology, as well as with the CHP which he sees as the continuation of these ideologies.

“The Western culture has invaded the world with its art, culture, cinema, paintings, sports, in other terms soft powers.” Such remarks that are used by Erdoğan are not merely dry propaganda. They underlie a discourse for the fight of creating a “new nation” by changing the Kemalist regime, politics and socio-cultural structure.

In Erdoğan's new “nation,” the material and spiritual sides should be completely separated from each other; and this has been distinct in all of the remarks of Islamist conservatives since 2002. The material is the West's economy and technology, whereas the spiritual side is where the nation would be built: it is religion- and culture-based and it is local and national. The reason behind the discourse of “cutting off” legendary singer Sezen Aksu's tongue and the ban on several concerts is that they do not include this new "nation"'s culture, morality and religion. They do not pay homage to the rulership.

Supremacy is not about economic growth or technological advancements in this new "nation" concept; these can be copied in some way. But, the real supremacy is what the West does not have: it is the wealth of the Ottoman times and of course Islam in this concept of nation.

Islamist conservatism, a cultural movement based on religion, has gained a new political identity with Erdoğan, and Erdoğan's followers have adopted this new political identity with him. The economy's collapse, the dollar's rise, corruption, looting, pillage, pompous life, etc. all do not matter too much. Erdoğan's followers will stay with him unless they find someone better.

In this era, unfortunately, this situation is not specific to Erdoğan. The world has several other examples, and the common point of these neoliberal fascist leaders is that they vow to transform their countries into a political power in the world “by means of cultural cleansing.”

What is the alternative to Erdoğan's “new nation”?

What Erdoğan has so far done and how is known. What he will do and how is also known. The real question is: Do those who are trying to uproot him from power really know what they are doing and how they will do it?

The addressee of this question is unquestionably the CHP. It cannot be said that other system-favoring opposition actors are disturbed about this sociocultural transformation; what they are really disturbed about is the fact that they are not an important “part” of this transformation. For example, Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the most important mentors of this construction. But now, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın stands in his place.

In the last 20 years, the CHP has formed its opposition strategy on the discourse of defending the state and its functioning. It has sought for rights and defended laws in Erdoğan's courts. It has stood behind the concept of “secularism,” which it understood as not letting religious cults into the state, by waving the “flag.” In summary, the CHP has defended that the old system goes through no change. Let alone a new political/economic/social project, it did not even utter a remark of “reform” for the change of the old system.

The CHP's not being in the rulership cannot be shown as a reason for this. The same is the case for CHP local administrations. When CHP municipalities are compared to AKP municipalities, what can we say about their policies? There are only two among 1,391 municipalities that can be considered as “different”: The mayors of Tunceli and Fındıklı who show the signs of socialism in their works.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the opposition needs to be aware that AKP voters are not mere supporters of a party now. They have a new “political identity” now and will continue to adopt it until they are offered a new identity that persuades them both “materially and spiritually.”

The society that we live in is no longer the society of 100 years ago, and it cannot be based on a “nation model” of those times. Many areas from the women's movement to Kurdish movement, from environmental damage to animal rights, have created their own consciousness and struggle. A “totally new nation” identity that sees all of these issues and combines their progressive properties in an umbrella definition is needed.

(English translation by Didem Atakan)