Turkey, Erdogan and the AKP at the junction

In the last few years, Turkish politics have been characterized by a certain degree of instability and some contradictions. After the Arab Spring, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party (AKP) won the general election with 49.83% granting its leader the mandate as Prime Minister for the third term. The Turkish PM at that stage had inaugurated the democratic initiative process as well as the economic recovery plan keeping at the same time a strong Muslim identity. However, the discontent spread in 2012 over the Country.

The Gezi Park protests (2013) represented a turning point for Turkey’s political history. The protest, which was aimed at defending one of the remaining green spaces in Istanbul, was nothing more than a manifestation of discontent against the Erdoğan’s policy. The 2013 sit-in involving mostly young people started in May. The Turkish government answered by repressing the protest with teargas, water bombings and pepper spray. The police used batons against the protesters. In addition, the protesters’ tents, used to occupy the park, had been burnt. Notwithstanding the Gezi Park protests, Erdoğan not only maintained his role as PM but he became even more powerful.

The 2014 could be considered an important year, both on the internal and on the external side: the democratization process was failing because of its frail structure and it left room to the political and social polarization. The antidemocratic line pursued by the former PM and current President of the Republic implied the violent repression of civil society rallies and the denial of freedom of the press. In 2014, 63,360 websites were blocked, including Kurdish political ones, together with Twitter and Soundcloud contents, whereas a high number of journalist were arrested.

On the external context, the Turkish attitude changed. Since 2002, Erdoğan tried to play the role of mediator in the Middle East, particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israel-Syria issue around the Golan Heights. He also tried to mediate in the nuclear issue promoted by Iran. At the beginning, the “zero neighbors’ problems policy” seemed to be quite attractive, but after the Arab Spring this soft policy demonstrated not to be appropriate.

In July 2014, Erdoğan started to talk about a “new Turkey” trying to solve of the Kurdish issue[1]. However, after the elections held in June 2015, the clashes between Kurds and the government started again, slowing the peace process. The new Turkish program also intended to reinforce the dialogue with the European Union. The Turkish instability continues to be influenced by the Syrian crisis too.

The 2015 has been characterized by two election rounds. The first one in June, allowed the filo-Kurdish party (HDP) to enter for the first time in the Turkish Parliament by gaining 80 seats. These elections had been planned by Erdoğan, because he was sure to gain 60% of the citizens’ preferences; however, the results were a surprise. The entrance of Kurdish representatives in the Parliament demonstrated that Erdoğan’s leadership was not as uncontested as foreign observers could think, while the Kurdish program was supported by many young people and disillusioned former Erdoğan’s supporters. However, the government elected in June demonstrated its incapability to build up an executive[2], and in August Erdoğan announced the next advanced elections.

Between the first and second round of elections, the social situation showed instability featuring several episodes of violence, the main of which happened on 10 October in Ankara, where during a peaceful manifestation, two kamikaze exploded provoking more than 100 victims. After the attack, the government applied the immediate media censorship.

The second round took place in November and confirmed the AKP majority giving the Turkish fortunes in Erdoğan’s hands. On 1 November, the Turkish population went back to the ballot boxes. The AKP gained 316 seats to benefit from an autonomy in ruling the country, but not the power of making any constitutional change[3]. The HDP got 61 seats and the MHP 42, while in June they gained 80 seats each. To demonstrate the government’s position against Daesh, after the opening of the ballot boxes, the Turkish media announced the murder of 50 jihadists and the disruption of about 8 of their outposts in Syria. Soon after the elections, the disorders did not cease. Just few days before November, in Southeastern Turkey, explosions and clashes happened between the police and the Kurds.

Erdoğan is now the President of the Turkish Republic and declares to be satisfied by the outcome obtained so far, emphasizing the importance of a unitary and strong state. However, as the time goes by, this current government’s attitude became more authoritative. Soon after the Arab Spring, the government built up a strong economic system and a good governance both on the internal and on the external side; however during the last few years this model has outlined several contradictions. AKP ruling applied the carrot-and-stick methods, and between 2013 and 2014 a verticalization of the power took place. Erdoğan managed to marginalize his political and institutional opponents and hit the young bands asking for a renewed government. On the other side, he conquered the Anatolian masses consensus by applying populist logics.

On the external side, the geopolitical Turkish position is quite complicated; during his last visit in Brussels, regarding the EU requests to be helped with the refugees issue, Erdoğan declared that Turkey would not close its borders to the Iraqi and Syrian refugees, but asked more flexibility on the tourist visa issue. Moreover, the European Union emphasized the unstable situation between the government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and invited Erdoğan to re-open the peace negotiations, but Turkey’s leader accused the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

The exasperation of the Syrian crisis has exacerbated the “zero neighbors’ problems policy” of Turkey and has influenced its relations with the European Union, Russia and the United States. Considering that, Turkey is now isolated. Even if Erdoğan demonstrated his will to fight Daesh, Turkey is still far from stability. The internal situation is not still safe, as demonstrated by the last attack in Istanbul and this occurrence could be read as a warning for the “new” government.

Does the population need an authoritarian government to solve this chaos? Turkish voters decided to once again to trust Erdoğan, who announced a “new era”. In a chaotic Turkey, where the concept of democracy is ambiguous, where the press freedom is not guaranteed and where the economy needs recovery, the new government should work hard, starting first from in the internal side. In fact, the only way to start ruling safely is the real resolution of the Kurdish issue, and this matter could be read as a strategic step in the international context and in particular with the European Union.

The instability of the last few years demonstrated a policy failure, so that the current government should focus on the social needs, in particular those of the young people, as well as reconsider its foreign policy, and especially clarify its role in relation to Daesh.

Lucia Vasta

Master’s Degree in Languages and Economic and Legal Institutions of Asia and North Africa (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)


[1] The only minorities recognized by the Turkish Constitution are the religious ones not the ethnic ones, so Erdogan at the beginning of his leadership started a peace process with the Kurdish minority.

[2] The HDP refused a coalition with the AKP, while the MHP preferred to remain part of the opposition.

[3] In order to modify the Constitution, the AKP would need 330 Parliament seats.


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