The Turkish original of this article was published as AKP’nin son hamlesi on 26th August 2015.
In an earlier article I had noted that the AKP in power was driven by two prime concerns: Survival and legitimacy. From 2002 onward, it faced three domestic political actors plus an external one: The military, the Gülen Congregation, the PKK, and the EU. The new government was grappling with the military while tension with the PKK was also omnipresent. Hence the AKP sought cooperation with Gülen to survive, and initiated and owned up to EU reforms for purposes of legitimation. Then in 2010 a gulf began to open with Gülen. Furthermore, the EU was also growing cold on Turkey, and as the AKP was forced to intervene against the judiciary in its fight with Gülen, this led to an even greater distancing from the EU. Consequently the ruling party turned to other actors. Now survival meant cooperating with the military, and the need for legitimation was met by launching the Solution Process.
As the June 2015 elections approached, the picture had changed yet again. While a father formal relationship was maintained with the army, it was not based on a comprehensive mutual trust. The fight against Gülen was still going on, and the PKK, with its sights set on making use of Syrian opportunities, was pushing the government to the limiy by behaving as an alternative public authority. Moreover, neither the EU nor the US was standing by the AKP. As for the HDP, it had joined the anti-AKP coalition, and was campaigning to overthrow the government. Facing such growing isolation, the AKP latched on achieving a critical majority in parliament as the only way out. If some such opportunity could be wangled, a new constitution could be made to ensure legitimacy, and the presidential system to be introduced by that same new constitution would also guarantee survival. This is why the electoral threshold remained high, and also why Erdoğan asked for 400 deputies in parliament.
The elections, however, bred a very different outcome. The HDP beat the [10 percent] threshold, while the AKP lost its absolute majority. Although the post-election political atmosphere quickly reverted to a more polite kind of language, fundamentally the threat against the AKP had grown larger and its isolation had assumed acute dimensions. The anti-AKP coalition was beginning to display a certain permanence, and the PKK had declared “a new people’s revolutionary war.” Indeed, currently the single most striking oppositional sentiment in domestic politics is probably the fixation that “the AKP must be overthrown regardless of what it may cost.” Otherwise put, the psychological outlook of the opposition in Turkey is increasingly shifting beyond democratic custom and tradition, and it is by trying to render the Kurdish question insoluble that this objective is being pursued.
We have come to know through bitter experience what governments should be doing in the face of this kind of menace. Two principal actors must be highlighted: The army and the US. The AKP had to act quickly to ensure both its survival and its legitimacy, and how strong the solution would prove to be was going to depend on the strength of the AKP’s ties with those two actors. In the end, the government did come up with a very successful move: All the bargaining that had been going on with the US for months was concluded with an agreement that enabled Turkey to draw US support to its side, with the further corollary that Turkey came to be certified as a primary partner in the struggle against IS. Now, indeed, US leaders are not only confirming the legitimacy of bombing PKK camps, but they are also asserting that although Turkey had long been wanting to launch anti-IS operations, it was only the gaps and deficiencies in military coordination that had kept them waiting.
Cooperation with the US also means cooperation with the Turkish army, and renders the AKP’s survival significant and functional directly in the eyes of these two actors. Meanwhile making war against IS provides the AKP with the legitimacy that it has been seeking. This is an “additional” legitimacy. For the AKP is currently the single most popular political movement in the country, and it is virtually certain that it will be increasing its vote in the next election. It shouldn’t be surprising for the government’s move to weaken and marginalize the anti-AKP front. In turn, this means that everybody should be preparing for a new spell of the AKP in power.