Being obligated to society

Etyen Mahcupyan


The Turkish original of this article was published as ‘Topluma mahkûm olmak’ on 23rd June 2015.


The elections held a warning as well as a reassuring message for the AKP. Objectively speaking, it is quite clear that the ruling party went through considerable shifts and swings over the last six months. To a large extent this had to do with the gaps and ambiguities that resulted from the fact that while Erdoğan had become president, in practice overall leadership was still in his hands. This wasn't really a question of whether to heed his views and assessments or not. It would be out of the question for any party not to pay attention to the opinions of a leader with this degree of experience. But the fact that all these conflicts and disagreements took place in front of the public caused the AKP to be regarded as a party that had somehow shelved its collective wisdom. Ehether to agree to take the ministers accused of corruption to the Supreme Court or not, the deferral of the transparency law, the Hakan Fidan incident, the interest rate debate, and the over-emphasis on a presidential system gradually deepened this perception. The fact that the president "took to the field," as well as his forceful, imposing discourse, also worked to turn the various question marks in people's minds into a "shared disquiet."


On the other hand, this is a major party with a chairman, leading organs, and a huge apparatus. Reducing the party's errors to the behavior of a single individual would be tantamount to a flight from reality. What is coming out more and more clearly is that despite all its experience, the AKP was not able to sufficiently institutionalize objective self-criticism. It was nevertheless able to maintain its leading position with 41 percent and a massive margin of superiority. A majority of the people who voted for it may not have really "approved of" the AKP's recent performance  but were nevertheless led by their emotional ties of loyalty to keep supporting it. Others, meanwhile, moved to another "home" if there was any such alternative to their liking, or else refrained from voting altogether.


There is nothing in this picture that should be cause for despair. The AKP has lost 9 points compared with the previous elections, but the reasons for this are clear, and none of these are enduring qualities characteristic of this party. Indeed, from Erdoğan and Davutoğlu down, the party's post-election stance and outlook provide important clues about the AKP's capacity for self-renovation. In the past, too, the AKP has always been the political movement most open to learning and changing itself as it goes along. as well as to self-transformation. It has always been daring and has never shied from taking risks in this regard.


This is because politically speaking, deep down the AKP has a more fundamental characteristic is also what ultimately causes society to regard it as trustworthy. The AKP's urge to transform, correct, and develop itself, and its capacity to do so, actually derive from this objective situation.


Simply put, the AKP is the only party that is obligated to society. There is no official ideology behind it, nor the military, nor the judiciary, nor any force of arms, nor the US, whereas all other parties can claim to have at least one of these "advantages" at their disposal. Hence it is that the AKP is the only party that is forced and compelled into democratic politics and a democratic mentality. Unlike other parties, it is not sufficient for the AKP to come up with pretty-sounding rhetoric. It is not even sufficient for it to keep proving itself through the services it has been providing over the years. For the AKP represents a segment of society that is changing the fastest, whose norms and standards are rising the quickest, and which is most inclined to adopting and voicing a self-critical attitude. The conservative constituency that forms the party's backbone needs to be constantly and repeatedly "won over," and a sizable portion among them is actually changing even more rapidly than the party.


Whether a party is relevant or not depends on what it has to about "tomorrow," which means that it has to be the bearer of what is "new" today. Not the comparative but the absolute advantage of the AKP is that this "new" is the AKP's electorate. It has become crystal clear that the party cannot possibly survive without responding to the exigencies of this constituency.