A multi-faceted crisis has been emerging and has begun to surround Turkey for the last few months. There is a growing crisis on the political scene, i.e., concerning the classical political parties and representative system. There is a growing social crisis underlying the one on the political level. The Kurdish question is exerting an increasing pressure on the political scene. And lastly a very serious economic crisis is on the horizon. Indeed this has been a familiar pattern in Turkey, at least in recent history. Political and economic crises have been always overlapped and triggered each other.
Increasing split between Erdoğan and his party AKP
Ex-Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdoğan have been elected as President of the Republic on August 2012. Since then things have been working somewhat differently from the way we have been accustomed to see. The classical pattern in Turkey’s political scene during the 12 years of AKP’s rule was more or less like this: Tayyip Erdoğan, as the Prime Minister, was the authoritative one-man figure who seemed to govern both Turkey and his party AKP on his own. Everything he said has always been perceived as the final word of the government. The success of Erdoğan was also the success of AKP and vice versa.
Things have been changing since the presidency election. Since he has been selected as the President of Republic, Erdoğan attempts to establish a kind of “parallel” government with his consultants and some high ranking figures within AKP and state bureaucracy. His discourse and policy proposals differ sometimes quite radically from that of the government now led by Ahmet Davutoğlu, the ex-Foreign Minister. We have recently observed this difference with regard to a recent discussion about Turkish Central Bank’s interest rates. We have witnessed this difference as to whether the Undersecretary of Turkish İntelligence Service (MIT) should resign, participate to the forthcoming national elections in June and become the Foreign Minister of the new cabinet –in case AKP comes to power again. Prime Minister Davutoğlu wanted H. Fidan to resign and become a MP candidate; finally Erdoğan convinced him to remain as the head of the intelligence service. We have also testified a similar difference concerning a joint declaration by some ministers and Kurdish party (HDP) MP’s regarding the peace process between PKK and Turkish government.
Maybe the most remarkable difference was the last one. The essence of the joint declaration was a call by Abdullah Öcalan –sentenced to life imprisonment– to PKK for convening a congress in spring, before the national elections. He proposed to the prospective congress to take a definite decision for abandoning armed struggle against Turkey – probably PKK will not lay down arms in other parts of Kurdistan, but this is a different matter. In return Öcalan put forward some broad conditions such as democratization steps and constitutional changes to be taken by the government. While the Turkish government promoted the joint declaration for increasing its votes particularly among the Kurdish population, President Erdoğan adopted a reserved “wait and see” attitude towards the declaration.
Indeed it’s obvious that Erdoğan pursues a different agenda. He aims to change the political representation system of Turkey. Turkey is being governed by a parliamentary system whereas he wants to govern Turkey by a presidential system. But unlike United States or France, he’s advocating a “Turkish type” of presidential system where there will be no checks and balances mechanisms such as powerful local parliaments/administrations, and indeed all power will be concentrated in the hands of the would-be president, that is, Tayyip Erdoğan himself.
T. Erdoğan often organizes public meetings and asks from the crowd to secure 400 MP’s for AKP so that the next government will be able to change the constitution. But this is just the source of the growing tension between him and the ruling AKP. If the parliament adopts the presidential system and Erdoğan becomes President, then AKP will be reduced to a mere supporter in the legislative body of his policies and thus will lose all effective governing power. Erdoğan will govern with a cabinet of his choice and many leading figures of AKP will be excluded from the governing mechanism. Not only this. Moreover AKP, a broad-based mass party, will loose most of its influence on the society as well as on the state mechanism which is a very decisive apparatus in Turkey with regard to the distribution of wealth.
The growing gap between Erdoğan and the ruling party AKP reflects also a divergence in the policies pursued by both sides. It becomes increasingly visible that Erdoğan allies with the military represented in a constitutional body named “National Security Council” (NSC). Those who think that military no longer has any decisive role in Turkey’s political scene are badly mistaken. Any political figure or party wishing to remain in power must still, in one way or another, ally with the military. Erdoğan expresses the hard line policy of the NCS, especially concerning the Kurdish question. Just a few days after the joint peace process declaration, he said that there was no such thing as “Kurdish question” in Turkey. On the other hand the government, now preparing for the national elections, has no choice but to pursue more comprehensive and “liberal” policies. That’s why the government has to take credit of the peace process by presenting itself as the only political actor who puts finally an end to the bloody conflict lasting for 30 years.
To sum up, for the first time since the beginning of AKP’s rule in late 2002, the AKP constituency witnesses a split between their leader Erdoğan, a much reliable figure for them and the AKP, the party that they brought to power three times during the last 12 years. And this could be the beginning of a number of splits this time within the AKP itself.
A polarized society and the approaching economic crisis
Turkey’s society has been deeply polarized politically since about 2010. Indeed this polarization has been largely manufactured by Erdoğan. On the one hand there are those who regularly vote for AKP and they constitute about 50 per cent of the voters. They mostly believe without further questioning what Erdoğan and other leading figures of AKP say about critical issues. They are mostly religiously conservative of varying degrees. On the other hand there are secularists comprising about 30-35 per cent of the population. The majority of the secularists (about 26-27 per cent) vote regularly for the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Of course there are also Alawites, a heterodox Muslim community who have been seriously exposed to discrimination during the years of AKP rule.
Just a few examples may clarify how the AKP constituency’s allegiance to Erdoğan has been secured by propaganda campaigns. During the Gezi uprising in June 2013, which was obviously a secular resistance, Erdoğan and pro-AKP media have managed to convince their conservative constituency that Gezi protestors were nothing but vandals and were manipulated by pro-coup provocateurs. Another recent example is this: Recently a young woman has been raped and then burned to death. Thousands of secular women and feminists took to the streets all around Turkey to protest the violence against women. Erdoğan, now the President of the Republic, publicly criticized the way secular women have protested the murder and said “we pray when someone is dead, we don’t took to the streets; those feminists don’t belong to our culture and civilization”. He meant feminists have nothing to do with Islam and should be excluded by religious people.
The project of Erdoğan and AKP was to create a large and prosperous conservative middle class by way of clientelistic networks. Thus those who would like to benefit from the wealth created through these networks should adopt a conservative life style and hate the secularists as their main adversaries. Fortunately, Turkey’s economy could not produce enough wealth for the realization of this social engineering project.
What happened instead is this: AKP and Erdoğan created a capitalist class of their own mostly by state tenders. So a new bourgeoisie has emerged by winning state tenders particularly in construction and infrastructure projects. As it has always been the case with the so-called “emerging markets”, the wealth thus created has not been distributed to popular classes and poured to businessmen communities having strong ties with the government.
This is why AKP and Erdoğan have felt the need to polarize Turkey’s society around religious values. Since the life standard of the large conservative masses didn’t change much, to polarize the society and thus to consolidate/protect AKP’s own electoral base was the optimal solution.
Turkey may experience a serious economic crisis in near future
Economic crises and drastic changes in people’s material conditions have always treated the status quo in Turkey. Power mechanisms like the one built up by Erdoğan and AKP may manufacture people’s consent only up to a point. When a serious economic crisis hits large portions of the working classes, conservatives as well as secularists, the polarizations and divisions created among the society break down easily. I sincerely believe that a significant part of the voter base of AKP and Erdoğan will get rid of their illusions once an economic crush will destroy their “success story” which persisted more than a decade due a lack of a real democratic and popular opposition and presence of abundant money in international financial system to borrow
And here’s a crisis on the horizon. Since a few months we have every sign of an economic crisis or at least a drastic downturn in Turkey.
Like other similar “emerging markets”, Turkey’s economy boosted until 2012 mainly due to hot money and credit inflow from global funds and foreign banks. There has been a huge hot money and bank credits inflow since 2003 and it has been intensified after the global financial crisis, when FED has started the successive quantitative easing programs (QE). Traditionally Turkish private sector suffers from a chronic shortage of capital accumulation. The real wages are generally low and don’t allow for an aggressive consumption. When the huge global liquidity has enabled cheap and massive borrowing, Turkish banks and real sector firms have borrowed heavily. They used these foreign resources to finance non-productive investments like real estate and construction. Turkey’s economy is traditionally dependent on domestic consumption. Thus banks encouraged households to use large amounts of consumer credits and to borrow by using credit cards.
Now, as FED ended its QE program last year and announced that it will raise federal interest rates, money inflows to Turkey have begun to dry up. Since foreign financial investments are now heading for more secure instruments like US treasury bonds and since local private corporations are heavily indebted in terms of US dollar, Turkish Lira has been devalued about 15 per cent against dollar only during the last two and half months. Devaluation of the Turkish lira increases day by day the total foreign debt of the local firms. Not only that. Local consumption has been increasingly stagnating because working and middle class households have also indebted heavily during the last decade.
Consequently, it seems very likely that a probable economic crisis in the near future will enable the discussion of the real problems of Turkey, put an end to those manufactured polarizations, make possible the questioning of the clientelistic networks built up by AKP and Erdoğan and cause still more splits both between the would-be President Erdoğan and AKP and also within the AKP itself. What’s needed is a real democratic and popular opposition for taking advantage of this upheaval.
ZNetwork is funded solely through the generosity of its readers.Donate