End of the Road for the AKP?

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End of the Road for the AKP?

Daniel Johnson

In Istanbul, 2021 began with hundreds of students initiating a series of protests on the campus of Boǧaziçi University. They were demonstrating against President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan’s January 1 appointment of a new rector via presidential decree. Melih Bulu, a business management Ph.D. and longtime Justice and Development Party (AKP) activist, was the first rector selected from outside the university since a military coup in 1980. Students chanted “Melih Bulu is not our rector” and “We don’t want a state-appointed rector.” (The song “Master of Puppets” could also be heard after Bulu gave an interview in which he claimed to... be a regular guy who likes Metallica.)

Police met demonstrators with pepper gas and plastic bullets; by early February 560 students had been detained, with 10 arrested and 25 sentenced to house arrest. Demonstrations have continued, however, importantly with broad faculty support. Students’ Boǧaziçi Solidarity platform demands Bulu’s resignation, and in early March seventy of the university’s professors applied to the Council of State to have the appointment rescinded. Erdoǧan and AKP officials labeled protesters terrorists, compared students to demonstrators involved in the 2013 Gezi uprising, and attacked LGBTQ student groups – since according to the AKP gay and trans people do not actually exist in Turkey. (Such deviant ideas are an import of the decadent West.)

The government’s response to the protests is of course no surprise. It was the brutal suppression of the Gezi rising of 2013 that revealed the true illiberal face of the AKP, and since a failed coup in 2016 the state’s repressive apparatus has stepped up efforts to eradicate opposition. Arrests and prison sentences for opposition politicians, activists, and journalists continue today, as Turkey’s human rights record continues to deteriorate.

But in recent weeks the Turkish state’s aggression has intensified. In addition to attempting to ban an International Women’s Day march on March 8, a new presidential decree withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe initiative to combat violence against women and domestic violence. These moves coincided with the announcement of plans to close the left-wing People’s Democracy Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition party in parliament. While the state closure of political parties in Turkey is also not new, the prosecutor’s stated intention to ban 687 HDP politicians from politics marks a departure in its attempt to create a “Turkey without Kurds.”

While it may appear that the AKP (together with the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), its junior partner in parliament) has taken the offensive, the recent aggressions are in fact an indication of the increasing desperation of the AKP-MHP “People’s Alliance.” For the last four years support for the Alliance has steadily deteriorated, with support especially low among young people. With no clear way out of a worsening economic crisis and in the face of growing popular opposition, the ruling bloc has abandoned even the pretense of adherence to basic democratic norms. While it would be unwise to underestimate the AKP-MHP’s ability to manufacture crises in the interest of maintaining power in the short-term, it is hard to see how it can reverse a long-term decline. But if the decades-long era of AKP dominance is coming to an end, what might replace it is anything but clear.

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