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Justice and Development Party (AKP)
Adalet ve Kalkinma Parti (AKP)

Justice and Development Party (AKP) entered the Turkish political scene on 14 August 2001 under the leadership of Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN. The AKP started out as an Islamist party, but some would say that they are about as Islamic as a Christian Democratic party in Germany is Christian. That is, from that tradition they are a modern center-right party. Others would disagree. The links between Turkey's main political parties and their foreign counterparts have been relatively weak. Nevertheless, the process of globalization had a dramatic impact in terms of transforming one major party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Some AKP members are Gulenists, including some MPs. The two organizations share certain views, and most Gulenists voted for AKP. But AKP does not have an organized Gulenist wing and none of the senior leaders in AKP hailed from the Gulenist camp. The Gulenists, have a long-term goal of using their schools to prepare followers to attain high positions in Turkey's leading institutions; AKP's goals are more immediate and more focused on electoral politics.

Erdogan had been influenced by modernization and economic liberalization in Turkey. This caused him to diverge from his Islamist roots as a spiritual follower of the Naksibendi [ also written Naqshbandi Naqshibandi, an-Naqshbandiyyah, or Naksibendi] movement and a political follower of Islamist leader Necmettin Erbakan, whose brief tenure as PM ended with the 1997 "post modern coup." Erdogan holds conflicting Islamist, traditional conservative, and liberal/reformist thoughts in his personal outlook. Erbakan drew support from pious, poor rural Turks -- many of whom had migrated to the cities -- who felt threatened by modernization and sought refuge in Islam. However, in the 1980s and 90s, thanks largely to the influence of former PM and President Turgut Ozal, a pious middle and upper class developed. Humble farmers and shopkeepers became entrepreneurs, and even "Anatolian Tigers." These successful, pious Muslims form an important part of Erdogan and AKP's support base, although the overwhelming majority of AKP's voters are not wealthy.

Turks respect both Islam and the Turkish military, but do not want to be ruled by either, preferring democracy. Turkey's Islamists made a quick and universal break in their rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the 1997 "post modern coup," during which the military forced out the then-PM Erbakan's pro-Islam Turkish government. After the coup, many Turkish Islamist leaders stopped touting anti-Americanism and began to endorse democratization, human rights, and other Western concepts. This change represented an ideological conversion on the part of Turkish Islamists due, in part, to the political realities in Turkey.

AKP's electoral success reflects these broader modernizing and moderating trends among Turkish Islamists. Earlier Turkish parties with Islamist roots garnered only about 10-20 percent of the vote, because their appeal was largely limited to Turkey,s Islamist minority. AKP, however, won 34 percent of the vote by claiming it was a moderate "conservative democratic" party and reaching out to both Islamist-oriented voters and Turkey's larger group of traditionally conservative and pious, but not Islamist, voters. some suggest that 25 percent of AKP's electoral support comes from Islamist-oriented voters and that the remaining 75 percent comes largely from traditional (non-Islamist) conservative voters. Others suggest that that around 60 percent of AKP,s supporters were traditional (non-Islamist) conservatives, around 15 percent were Islamist-oriented voters, with the rest mostly swing protest voters upset with corruption in the other parties.

Many of AKP's domestic and foreign critics dispute the argument that Islamism in Turkey poses no threat to secularism. They argue that the supposed evolution of PM Erdogan and other AKP leaders from Islamists to "conservative democrats" is nothing more than a political ploy.

While the AKP has Islamist roots, it is fundamentally different from its predecessors -- the National Salvation, Welfare, and Virtue parties -- in terms of its ideology, its political goals, its market-oriented economic agenda, and the broader range of the electorate to which it appeals. Despite its origins, the AKP government has not pursued an overt Islamist agenda, although critics accuse it of infiltrating Islamists into the civil bureaucracy and condoning Islamization at the local level.

The major financial crises that Turkey experienced in 2000-2001 was the deepest crisis Turkey had experienced in its recent history. It resulted in a collapse of output (with negative growth of -7.4 percent in 2001) was accompanied by rigorous IMF conditions of fiscal disciplines and regulatory reforms. This helped discredit the established parties on both the left and right of the political spectrum, creating political space for the AKP. The party was extremely successful in constructing a cross-class electoral alliance incorporating both winners and losers from the neo-liberal globalization process. Support from small and medium-sized business units constitutes a crucial element of the AKP's electoral support. The deep center-periphery cleavage in the economic arena was between the big commercial and industrial bourgeoisie which were supporters of the secular regime in the center and the small conservative bourgeoisie in the periphery. The latter tried to find ways to challenge the monopoly of the former in Turkish economy.

Following the Constitutional Court's June 2001 closure of the Islamist Fazilet (Virtue) party for being a center of activities "contrary to the principle of the secular republic," two successor parties were formed -- the Saadet (Contentment) Party and the AK (Justice and Development) Party. The Ak Party immediately set out to develop its organizational structure and experienced rapid growth. A nationwide network was built in one year. Simultaneously, the Party's Women and Youth branches were set up and began activities all over Turkey. A lawsuit against Justice and Development Party in Turkey failed to exclude it from the elections.

AK Party Chairman and former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced immediate legal challenges to his role as founding member of the party, based on his 1999 conviction for the crime of "inciting religious hatred." In January 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that Erdogan was ineligible to run for Parliament due to this conviction and therefore could not be a founding member of the party, and gave the AK an October 2002 deadline to correct the situation. When the AK Party failed to comply, prosecutors opened a case demanding the party's closure; however, under recent legal reforms a conviction would not lead to closure. Erdogan also faced possible legal charges based on speeches he made in the early 1990's that allegedly contained anti-secularist statements, and for alleged financial misconduct.

In July 2001, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the Government's 1998 decision to close Fazilet's predecessor party, Refah. The court ruled that the closure "could reasonably be considered to meet a pressing social need for the protection of a democratic society" because, according to the ECHR's analysis, Refah had espoused the possibility of instituting Shari'a law in Turkey. While leading figures in the AKP and its core electoral support had been associated with the previous Islamist parties, it soon became clear that AKP was more moderate than its predecessors.

AKP entered the general elections of 3 November 2002 despite its recent inception. The will of the voters established the AK PARTY as the predominant political Party in the November 3rd elections: it defeated all other established parties, winning 34% of the vote. AK PARTY became the ruling party, marking the end of the era of coalition governments that began in 1991. Following the end of their respective political bans, Erdogan entered Parliament and was appointed Prime Minister, while Erbakan assumed the formal leadership of Saadet.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received just 34 percent of the popular vote, but gained two-thirds of the seats in the 550-seat Assembly. After the interim election in the province of Siirt and new participation in the Party, AK PARTY's number of seats rose to 367. Forty-five percent of Turkey's population voted for political parties that did not meet the 10 percent requirement for representation in the new parliament. the AKP benefited from the absence of a powerful rival.

The extraordinary electoral success of the AKP in the November 2002 general elections, following a decade of political instability featuring successive coalition governments, represented a major turning point in Turkey's political and economic trajectory. The political flux has been likened to an earthquake as 88 percent of the newly elected officials are new to parliament, and the roots of the AKP and its leadership can be traced to former, but now illegal, Islamist parties. These factors have raised concerns in and outside of Turkey about the country's political, democratic, economic and social future. A sharp debate continued over the State's definition of "secularism," the proper role of religion in society, and the potential influence of the country's small minority of Islamists.

Following the 58th government of the Republic of Turkey, set up under the leadership of Abdullah GL, AK PARTY Chairman Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN was elected to the parliament in the interim election in Siirt and became the Prime Minister of Turkey's 59th government. AK PARTY held its First Ordinary General Assembly on 12 October 2003. The Assembly was attended by thousands of Party members, and Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN was unanimously re-elected as Party Chairman.

The local elections of 28 March 2004 were an important second test for the AK PARTY. The Party increased its 34% vote in the 3 November 2002 elections to 42%. Prevailing in 12 of the country's 16 metropolitan municipalities, 46 of 65 provincial municipalities, 425 of 789 county municipalities and 1,216 of 2,250 district municipalities, the AK PARTY achieved a landslide victory in the local elections.

The year 2007 was a turbulent year for Turkish politics. Much debate surrounded the parliamentary and presidential elections held this year. Strong opposition by the nationalists casts doubt as to the nomination and election of Abdullah Gl, the current foreign minister and member of the Islamist majority, Justice and Development Party, to be Turkey's next president. The Turkish nationalists, who enjoy the support of the military, strongly opposed the presidency of Abdullah Gl or any other member of the Justice and Development Party to ever occupy the presidency. However, the Justice and Development Party (AK), responsible for carrying out many of the reforms that have made Turkey's remarkable success possible, was reelected largely on the basis of the country's economic performance, and has committed to continued economic liberalization.

On 1 May 2007, Turkey's constitutional court annulled parliamentary voting for Turkey's next president. The Constitutional Court blocked Prime Minister Erdogan's selection of Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gl as a presidential candidate because Gl was not sufficiently secular. Erdogan himself had been dissuaded from seeking the presidency by large-scale demonstrations by secular factions in Ankara. The decision occurred amidst high tension between religious and secular political interests. Several peaceful protests and rallies were staged over several weeks by opposition groups in Istanbul and Ankara, exemplified in the peaceful 29 April 2007 protests in Istanbul, which drew one million people. Conversely, Istanbul's May Day demonstrations on 1 May 2007 resulted in hundreds of arrests and injuries. Consequently, the EU has warned the Turkish military not to intervene in the current dispute over the choice of a new president. The military, which had a history of intervening in political affairs, would not be tolerant of an Islamic republic and has actively supported the continuation of Kemalist ideology, set in place by Atatrk, and secularism.

After winning parliamentary elections in July 2007, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be in power for another five years. The AKP solidified its power with 341 of the 550 seats in Parliament, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) kept only 97 seats. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan kept his position. After Erdogan's party won parliamentary elections called by the prime minister, Gl's nomination was revived, and parliament approved him as president in August 2007. In October 2007, the near-failure of the presidential nomination process led to approval by national referendum of direct presidential elections.

After the parliament voted to alter the country's 1982 constitution to allow women who wear headscarves to attend university - which was currently prohibited in Turkey - a public prosecutor filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court in March 2008 to shut down the AKP and ban the party's senior officials from politics. On July 30, 2008, in a suit brought against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the Chief Prosecutor in March 2008, the Constitutional Court found the AKP guilty of serving as a center for antisecularist activities in violation of the Constitution. Six judges voted to ban the party; however, the Constitution requires that at least seven judges vote in favor of banning for a party to be closed. The 11-member court instead agreed to halve the party's state funding. That court ruled that the AKP need not disband but would lose one-half of its state funding. This compromise ruling left the dispute between Islamists and secularists unresolved.

The ruling Justice and Development Party has employed what it calls a "multidirectional strategic vision" to assert an independent course in foreign policy in the region and globally. Under this approach, Turkey advocates a common security framework, political dialogue, economic interdependence, and cultural as well as sectarian harmony.

According to the Party Program, "... the dynamic circumstances brought about by the post cold war period have created a suitable environment for developing a foreign policy with several alternatives. The particularity of military alliances and blocks to become the determinant elements of international relations has been greatly reduced, and cooperation projects have become a common tool of relations between States. In this new environment Turkey must also rearrange and create its relations with centers of power with alternatives, flexibly and with many axes.

"Turkey shall rapidly fulfill its promises in its relations with the European Union and the conditions, which the union demands of other candidate nations as well. Thus, it shall prevent the occupation of the agenda with artificial problems. Parallel to the contributions made by Turkey inside NATO until the present day, efforts shall be maintained for Turkey to take the place it deserves within the new European Security and Defense Concept created within the framework of the new European defense strategy....

"The blood spilling in the Middle East worries and concerns the Turkish public, which has close historical and cultural ties with this region, as it does the entire world public opinion. Our party believes that the only way to urgently stop the flow of blood and tears, no matter whom they belong to, is a lasting peace. In this framework, Turkey shall continue to support the efforts towards the achievement of the peace. ...

"Our Party attributes a special importance to Turkey's relation with Islamic countries. Thus, it shall make efforts for the increase of our bilateral cooperation with these nations on the one hand, while continuing attempts on the other for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to have a more respectable place in the international arena and to have a dynamic structure able to take initiatives."

Although some critics accuse Turkey of pursuing an "Islamic" foreign policy, the fact remains that the AKP has not ended Turkey's membership in NATO nor given up on Turkey's long term goal of joining the European Union. European Union (EU) membership has been a primary goal of the AKP government, and significant social and economic reforms have taken place during their administration.

The AKP's mission to solve the problems between the Muslim world and the West has derived from the views of the party's prominent leaders. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdongan and his party's other prominent leaders have all advocated a perspective of both forming good relations with Muslim countries and promoting accession to the European Union. The direct result of this outlook is that membership to the EU is perceived as the harmony of a Muslim society with predominantly Christian societies and that an "alliance of civilizations" is possible.

On 14 March 2008, the Chief Prosecutor of the Appeals Court filed an indictment at the Constitutional Court for closure of the AKP. He accused the AKP of violating secular principles and demanded a five-year ban from involvement in politics for 71 prominent AKP figures, including Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul (the inclusion of Gul was particularly controversial as the President is politically neutral and can only be indicted for treason). On 30 July the Constitutional Court decided to only impose a fine on the AK Party.

The Justice and Development Party suffered a significant setback in the 29 March 2009 local elections, in consequence of the economic downturn and an inability to advance key elements of its agenda. AKP remained the most popular political party in Turkey. Under pressure from opponents, it had adopted increasingly nationalist and less tolerant positions, particularly on the Kurdish question. The government continued to harshly criticize Israeli policies, emphasizing Islamic solidarity and pursuing closer ties with Israel's adversaries.

Turkeys ruling party, the Islamic-rooted AK Party, has close ties with deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. Ankara has been in the forefront of condemning Morsis overthrow and the subsequent crackdown on the Brotherhood and its supporters. In stark contrast, many Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have backed Egypt's new military-led government. Erdogan's AK party, which had won the last three Turkish general elections, traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.




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