The book "Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP," co-written by Ergun Özbudun and William Hale, can be mind opening for foreigners who have questions about Turks, Turkish politics and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). It is necessary to read this book in order to understand how this party represents a breaking away from political Islamist tradition in Turkey known as the "National View."
Yes, this party represents a breaking away from the political Islamist tradition in Turkey. The congress of the Virtue Party (FP), which took place in Ankara in May 2000, was the most tangible evidence of this breaking off.
A one of a kind event took place in Turkish political Islamism when "reformists" took a stand against both the founder and legendary leader of the movement, pushing forth their own candidate. This candidate was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It was Abdullah Gül competing for candidacy on that day, as Erdoğan had been imprisoned due to a poem that he had read. Similarly it was Recai Kutan who appeared as a candidate in place of Necmettin Erbakan, who faced certain political bans.
That day was a turning point in Turkish political history. The fact that Gül lost the chairmanship in the race by a slight margin bore no significance. It was that day that the AK Party was established.
The AK Party didn't emerge as a result of a war over seats between white-bearded party elders, as some people think. That congress was more of a result than a beginning, as there was a grassroots-level social and economic movement which gave way to the realization of this movement. The result of factors related to modernization such as globalization, urbanization and education all combined to have ground-breaking effects for the AK Party. It was this period that made Erdoğan cast aside his National View identity.
Turkey has over the past eight years, particularly during the years of AK Party leadership, borne witness to the countless manifestations caused by the great political transformation within this movement. The fact that even though it has been in power for eight years but has been unable to explicitly inform much of the public of what it is and what it isn't should be considered a weakness of the AK Party. We saw the latest reflection of this weakness in the latest referendum on Sept. 12 with the AK Party's inability to gather votes in the Aegean and Mediterranean provinces.
As for the Felicity Party (SP), the latest attempt by this movement to stay alive was the bringing of a young and dynamic leader like Numan Kurtulmuş to the helm. Kurtulmuş put forth a very successful performance and proved his insight. The party's support went up from around 3 percent to around 6 percent. While this was evident, the seniors of the SP were unable to tolerate Kurtulmuş's reformist and independent politics.
However, regardless of how bright of a picture it demonstrates, the socio-economic dynamics will prevent this party from really growing and flourishing. In order for this party to have a promising future, there needs to be deep voids in the field, which the AK Party is currently filling. There is no such political prospect at this time.
After the alienation of Kurtulmuş, the SP has become a political corpse in Turkish politics, and it would be a great mistake for Kurtulmuş to attempt to establish a new party. Kurtulmuş's place is by his friends in the AK Party, who have twice invited him to the party.
25 September 2010, Saturday