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Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP)

By:
Hakan Yavuz
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP)

The Justice and Development Party (JDP), known in Turkey by its Turkish acronym, AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi), was formed by a group of reformist Islamic politicians including Recip Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül, and Bülent Arınç in August 2001. It swept to victory in November 2002 as Turkeyʾs first majority government since the late 1980s. Although the AKP leadership denies it has a purely Islamic background and claims to be merely a conservative democratic party, the party emerged from the ashes of the mostly Islamist entities of Refâh (Welfare) and Fazilet (Virtue) parties that were closed down by the Constitutional Court on charges of being a forum for and proponent of antisecular activities. the majority of AKP's deputies are observant Muslims in their daily lives. For instance, the wives of male party members continue to wear headscarves, which are banned in public offices, ceremonies, and universities because they are regarded as a challenge to the secular nature of Turkey.

The AKP is the product of neoliberal and democratic transformations in Turkey. It is not a party of identity but, rather, a party that strives to provide better services. It does not necessarily develop or articulate claims on the basis of Islam or other forms of identity, but acts as an agent of Turkey's integration into neoliberal economics and politics. The AKPʾs government policies since 2002 have helped to consolidate democracy in Turkey by offering the country's marginalized groups an alternative venue for political participation. This positive role of the AKP is greatly enhanced by the expanding public sphere and the increasing economic role of military-legal institutions, made possible in large part by the actions of a new and rising Anatolian and socially conservative Turkish bourgeoisie, which has refused to support confrontational policies. voters in Turkey overwhelmingly voted for the AKP in the 2002 and 2007 elections and swept away a generation of established politicians, giving Erdoğan's party enough seats in the Parliament to form a single-party government.

The AKP seeks to reform the political system and state-society relations while at the same time declaring its identity as a conservative democratic party; it champions political participation and pluralism while not allowing much room for its own internal democracy; it identifies decentralization and local governance as a solution to Turkey's overburdened bureaucracy while it seeks to centralize its own party structure and decision making. The AKP's bylaws, which were designed to block an oligarchy within the party, were the first thing to be changed following its success in the November 2002 elections.

The national elections held on July 22, 2007, are likely to have a major impact on the future of Turkey. Four parties (along with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party or Demokratik Toplum Partisi, DTP) achieved representation in the parliament. The ruling AKP emerged the strongest party. After receiving over 34 percent of the vote in the November 3, 2002, elections, it increased its total to over 46 percent in the July 2007 elections. That total gave the AKP a majority of 341 seats in the 550-member parliament. The secularist Republican People's (Cumhuriyet Halk) Party and the Nationalist Movement (Milliyetçi Hareket) Party won 112 and 71 seats, respectively. Up to twenty-five seats went to independent candidates, including twenty Kurdish representatives who are expected to merge under the pro-Kurdish DTP.

The fact that the AKP emerged as the number-one party in the 2007 elections is not a surprise: it was expected to win enough seats to form the government. However, very few, including the AKP leadership itself, expected a landslide victory. This victory is simultaneously a vote for the policies of the AKP and against the crisis created by the secular-military establishment over the presidential election process. The AKP is the only party with dense social networks, including Ṣūfī orders, in every corner of the country, along with municipal governments. All these networks were mobilized for the party's victory. The dominant religious networks in the Kurdish regions helped the AKP to a major victory in these provinces. The only chance for ending the relentless and largely destructive Kurdish nationalist insurgency will probably come from the AKP, because it is the only party in Turkey that appeals to voters on the basis of shared Islamic values. As such, the AKP also has a large ethnic Kurdish following.

By voting for the AKP in the 2007 elections, the people not only provided a protest vote, they also voted for the new social contract. One of the key election commitments of the AKP is to make a new constitution that strengthens democracy and civil society. This commitment was expressed in the election platform and in the oral statements of party leaders. Many citizens of Turkey feel that this is an opportunity to restructure the Republic in accordance with the needs of the European Union. The electoral victory of the AKP in Kurdish-populated regions is open to different and competing interpretations. What is clear is that the AKP represents the Kurds as much as does the DTP. Thus, there are two parties now with legitimate claims to represent the Kurds: the AKP and the DTP.

The growing fear among secular people is that the AKP is seeking to transform modern lifestyles by creating a new set of principles defining a “good person and good way of life.” The issue is more complex; it is not about the AKP per se but, rather, the formation of a new hidden power. When President Ahmet Necdet Sezer tried to stop the appointments of pro-Islamic staff to key government positions, the government appointed them as “substitutes” (vekil) in order to overcome the presidential veto. Today, most high positions in the bureaucracy function without the backing of the president, and the bureaucracy has been staffed by pro-AKP officials.

The AKP is the agent of new politics and the school for a new generation of politicians in Turkey. It does not see modernity and tradition as mutually exclusive but, rather, as mutually constitutive processes. The AKP has expanded economic opportunities and liberalized the political system of Turkey. It has brought pragmatic and moral values together by stressing service and respect (sevgi) as the two pillars of its political discourse. The AKP has claimed for itself Turgut Özal's orginal concepts of achievement (icraat) and reconciliation (uzlaşma). Politics, for the AKP leader Erdoğan, is about serving the people and improving their everyday lives and acting as a pragmatic instrument to articulate the claims of people. See also TURKEY.

Bibliography

  • Akdoğan, Yalçin., Muhafazakar Demokrasi. Ankara, 2003.Uluslarası Muhafazakarlık ve Demokrasi Sempozyumu. Istanbul, 2004.
  • Yavuz, M. Hakan. ed. The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti. Salt Lake City, Utah, 2006.
  • Yavuz, M. Hakan. Islamic Political Identity in Turkey. Oxford, 2003.
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