AKP’s Authoritarianism and Post-Politics
AKP’s Authoritarianism and Post-Politics
The article examines the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) evolving interaction and perception of politics during the course of 13 years of state power. When it came to power in 2002, the AKP rejected Islamism and declared its political identity as conservative democracy. However, its social reforms have proved to be Islamist in character as well as being conservative. This combination of Islamist and conservative stance of the party further evolved in the last years. It started to back away in the face of newly emerging social problems and tensions. We see that the governing party chose to respond to the social problems with police force and prohibitions under the aegis of state security. Today we observe that the state coercion is drawing government’s political identity back; and AKP’s Islamism and conservatism is relapsing into authoritarianism. Moreover, erosion of politics of the governing party is coupled with depoliticisation of political opposition. The AKP denies the political character of both the social conflicts and their actors. Within this framework, the article discusses the concept of ‘post-politics’. It proposes that post-politics can be an opposite term to describe AKP’s authoritarianism and its emergent interaction with politics.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was founded in August 2001 and it took 34 per cent of the votes in the first general elections it competed in November 2002. Wining 367 parliamentary seats out of 550, it formed the first majority government established in Turkey since 1987. One of the many reasons of its success was experienced and senior cadre of the party. The majority of the activists and members of the leading cadre of the party like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç were the former followers of the National Outlook Movement (MGH), who had taken top positions in the Virtue Party (FP) and in its predecessor Welfare Party (RP). Despite this continuity, when it first appeared in the political scene, the AKP distanced itself from the Islamist stance of the MGH. It abandoned Islamism and defined its identity as conservative democracy, and attempted to unite different trends of Turkish political right. To entrench this shift from Islamism to conservatism, the AKP praised Turgut Özal and asserted itself as the resuscitation of Adnan Menderes’s Democrat Party (DP) in contrast to MGH’s leader Necmettin Erbakan and the extant Islamic parties of the MGH.
However, when the social reforms that the AKP initiated in the last decade are examined, it becomes hard to support party’s acclaimed departure from Islamist identity and politics. For instance, the AKP re-opened the middle sections of Prayer and Preacher Schools (İHO) on April 11, 2012 by Law No 6287. This law, which is popularly known as ‘4+4+4 Education Reform,’ institutionally separated primary and middle schools within primary education. Within the framework of newly introduced 12-year compulsory education, primary education institutions were reorganised as primary schools, middle schools, and Prayer and Preacher Middle Schools. In that way, middle school sections of İHOs were allowed to be re-opened after 15 years of their closure in February 28, 1997. The number of Islamic courses was also increased in both primary and middle schools’ curricula. While compulsory Islamic education was preserved, other Islamic courses like ‘Quran-ı Kerim,’ ‘Life of Hz. Mohammed and Basic Religious Instructions,’ and ‘Religion, Morals, and Values’ were introduced as elective courses. However, in some schools, these courses turned out to be ‘compulsory elective’ courses as no other elective course was offered.
Moreover, the minimum age restriction (which was 12) for Quran courses were eliminated on April 7, 2012. In addition, wearing headscarf in higher education was freed. It was further freed in the public sector and in the Parliament on October 8, 2013 by amending the by-law regulating the attire of public servants. Apart from these legal reforms, AKP governments supported moral values of Islam such as its outlook on women rights and family; they emboldened breeding more children, and publicly praised Islamist figures like Necip Fazıl Kısakürek.
Apparently, Islamic values and norms are in the forefront of these social reforms. They and the other elements of AKP’s ‘hegemony project’ can rightly be claimed to have Islamic character as well as being conservative. Actually, Islamism and conservatism are so intertwined in the case of AKP’s social reforms and policies that differentiating the former from the latter will be inaccurate. That’s why AKP’s purported rejection of Islamism and espousal of conservatism shall be corrected. Although the AKP does not embrace it as its identity, the Party is a conservative and Islamist party on a par. Particularly religious character of AKP’s politics can be substantiated by the relation of its acts with secularism as well.
In March 2008, the AKP was charged against secularism in the Constitutional Court. The Chief Public Prosecutor of the Republic Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya prepared an indictment for the dissolution of the party on the grounds that it became a centre of anti-secular activities. According to the indictment, AKP’s Islamist activities included the statements of party members defending headscarf freedom in higher education and in public sphere, and party’s legislative acts in this direction; the opening and proliferation of the IHOs; statements of party members and party’s legislative acts aiming to change the society in accordance with Islamic norms. While illustrating AKP’s religious acts, the Chief Public Prosecutor stated that on February 6, 2008, the AKP attempted to amend Articles 10 and 42 of the Constitution with the purpose of lifting the ban on headscarves in higher education. Later on, the Constitutional Court turned down this amendment (which was accepted by 411 votes); however the Chief Public Prosecutor evaluated it as an attempt to change the secular nature of the state. Secondly, the Prosecutor accused the AKP of changing the social life on the basis of religious norms. It was stated in the indictment that the Ministry of Health prepared a draft regulation on Licensing Healthcare Institutions. Article 113 of this draft allowed first-degree healthcare institutions to have places for worshipping. For the Islamisation of education, on the other side, in May 2004 AKP government passed a bill to remove co-efficiency practice for Prayer and Preacher School graduates in university entrance exams (which provide more education and hence employment opportunity to them).
In the light of these evidences, the Chief Public Prosecutor arrived to the opinion that the AKP has tried to obliterate the principle of secularism, and change the fundamental principles of the Republic. It has aimed to realise a model for society, reference points of which were religion. On March 31, 2008, the Constitutional Court voted unanimously to hear the case. In its final decision on July 30, 2008, the Court accepted that the AKP had become a centre of anti-secular activities, threatening the Republican nature of the State.
For our discussion, the opinion of the Chief Public Prosecutor and the decision of the Court are significant to settle the Islamic identity of the AKP. When compared, it will be seen that aforementioned social reforms of the AKP are the follow-up activities of what deemed as Islamist and hence anti-secular by both the Prosecutor and the Court. The AKP freed wearing headscarf in higher education and public sector; prospered İHOs; proliferated Islamic courses; and continued to change the society in accordance with Islamic norms even after condemnation of these acts as Islamist on July 2008. Therefore, the AKP deserves to be named as an Islamist party beside its declared conservatism.
Nevertheless, these reformed areas are by no means novel projects. On the contrary, they were in the agenda of Islamist parties for long. Therefore, it is no surprise that the AKP primarily opted to deal with them. Settlement of these predetermined dispute areas, however, was not followed by formulation of new Islamist or conservative policies that were peculiar to the AKP. Actually, AKP’s political agenda in the last two years bespeaks of a glaring political puniness: After being in the power for more than a decade, favouring Islam within the confines of conservatism seems to come to its limits. After all these Islamist and conservative steps have been taken and after the realisation of the old Islamist and conservative political arguments, there is not much new target left in the party’s agenda. Let us illustrate this point. There have been verbal assaults to pregnant women and to the way women dressed by AKP members. Yet, these assaults have not been transmitted into legal domain. As far as the issue of abortion is concerned, on the other hand, the government took only half measures. Following the former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that “abortion is murder,” the Cabinet drafted a new legislation and banned abortion. After severe social resistance though, firstly the legislation was amended in a way to restrict abortion. Afterwards, it was suspended and never put into effect. Currently, abortion is a de facto restriction in many hospitals, a practice that lacks legal basis.
All in all, above discussions could not gain legal force and be formulated as state policies as in the case of headscarf. In addition, the AKP is incapable to propose Islamist and conservative policies to newly emerging social problems.
Erosion of Politics
The third cabinet of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the cabinet of Ahmet Davutoğlu faced several questions and problems originating from diverse sources, each of which needed a substantial response and treatment. For instance, Gezi protests of Summer 2013 evoked citizen’s overlooked right to the city and destruction of nature through neo-liberal economic policies; December 2013 criminal investigation uncovered the bribery and corruption scandal in which, four of active AKP ministers and their sons were involved; sporadically people were denied access to social media instruments like YouTube and Twitter on no reasonable ground; backstairs foreign policy of the government (that was revealed when the trucks of Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) were discovered to carry significant amount of ammunition and weapons to Syria) is on the edge of extirpation, and last but not least, unbridled devaluation of Turkish lira is gradually distresses many more people each day.
AKP governments could not provide either of them with satisfying answers and/or re-actions; they proved incapable of developing new Islamist and conservative policies in the face of these problems that blew up. Hence, AKP’s conservatism and Islamism seems to stay stuck to women’s headscarf freedom or Islamisation of education; and remained baffled about the social, political and economic problems that are not related to these two issues. In contrast to proper and stable state policies, what we see is that, AKP governments responded to all of these diverse problem areas with a uniform, highly hallow and vague phrase: ‘we will do what is necessary’. The first implication of this phrase is the lack of politics. It means that governments do not have a proper policy and are caught unprepared. Hence, they are trying to buy some time by stalling the public. However, the AKP ‘does what is necessary’, while transforming the problems into security issues as well. Social, political and economic problems are represented by the AKP as issues threatening the security, order and continuity of the state; they are drawn into the sensitive zone of state security and replied by an immediate ‘whatever necessary action required by the circumstances’; being this necessary action, more often than not, police force. Therefore, doing ‘what is necessary’ is a way of avoiding politics or of depoliticisation as well.
Ertuğ Tombuş discusses in detail how depoliticisation works under the aegis of ‘necessity’. Accordingly, besides suspension of law and falling back on authoritarian state interventions, necessity is considered as the main rationale or a ground for the closure of democratic politics. Then, it is a departure from laws and legality, where state resorts to coercion and violence that suspends political rationale. Necessity, in this way, is actually used against politics. Necessity is the urgency of general conditions, whereas politics is associated with particular interests. Hence, doing what is necessary is proposed as being the opposite of doing politics. By claiming doing what is necessary, the AKP is representing itself as not acting out of particular political interests, but replying only to necessities that circumstances give birth to. This phrase also provides justification for any coercive action or frees the government from the burden of justifying state coercion and developing any more policy alternatives.
Consequently, the change in the AKP’s interaction with politics is not restricted to erosion and exhaustion of its conservatism and Islamism. Alongside it, the AKP is no longer attempting to justify its activities on any political ground. According to government’s discourse, headscarf freedom in the public sphere is not a conservative policy (but a requirement of universal human rights); restricting the consumption and selling of alcohol has nothing to do with Islam (but with public health). Using the phrase that former Prime Minister Erdoğan reiterates, no one shall say that privatisation of state institutions is part of neo-liberalism. No one shall say that the AKP is favouring Kurdish politics through Kurdish Peace Process. Increasing the powers and authorities of police force is not a security policy; and banning social media instruments does not in any way mean authoritarianism for the AKP. In this way, in 2015, the AKP rejects defending its acts and policies on the ground of any politics.
To sum up, the AKP’s interaction and perception of politics has evolved during the course of 13 years of state power. It came to power in 2002 as a conservative political party. In the course of time, its policies proved to be Islamist on a par with being conservative. Yet, in the last couple of years, it is possible to observe that AKP’s political identity is relapsing into authoritarianism and armed control of the society. While AKP regime is getting more authoritarian each day, it manifests a dislike of politics on the grounds of doing necessities of the circumstances. While AKP is doing what is necessary, almost all kinds of social, economic and political problems are securitised and turned over to the police force. In that way, doing what is necessary is rendering political identity of the AKP redundant; the state coercion is drawing government’s political identity back.
Concluding Remarks: The Era of Post-Politics
Focusing on the securitisation of politics, Ali Rıza Taşkale claims that violence and authoritarianism increased under AKP power. Accordingly, the AKP institutionalised a neo-liberal and militarist regime. AKP’s new regime is nothing but a unification of neo-liberal order with reactionary and authoritarian ‘post-politics’. If so, post-politics seems to be one of the pertinent terms to describe AKP’s new regime and its interaction with politics by 2015. Slavoj Zizek calls post-politics as one form of the denegation of the political. It describes a dislike of political moment or political antagonism by bringing it to its extreme via the direct militarisation of politics. Hence, the purpose of militarisation of politics is the elimination of dissent and provision of consensus. In that vein, post-politics insists on bringing democracy and advocates harmony within social order. Due to its focus on harmony and consensus, post-politics operates through demonization of dissent or moral castigation of all radicalism as bad and as terrorism.
Yet, the term post-politics can best be grasped with reference to the concept of ‘event’. An event is relatively unorganised individual or collective upheaval like a revolt, uprising, riot, insurrection or revolution. Events are seen by post-politics as threats that may cause the overthrow of the existing social order. Post-politics assumes a society unrelated to and unbothered by the disruptive events; it dreams of a society without conflict, antagonism and radical political change. Hence, the problem of post-politics is as follows: Any conflict or antagonism or shortly any event shall disappear in our contemporary society. In this way, post-politics signifies denial of the political nature of given questions. In short, post-politics is the politics of the ruling power to foreclose politics with the purpose of cancelling the occurrence of events.
This is what we see in today’s AKP regime. AKP’s dislike of politics proceeds with denial of the political character of both the social conflicts and their actors. According to the leading figures of the AKP, Gezi protests were not about environmental problems and right to city; demonstrators for the freedom of Kobane from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants had nothing to do with Kobane; the tapes revealing December 2013 corruption scandal were not related to corruption; protestors of Soma coal mine explosion that killed 301 miners were not actually concerning Soma. On the contrary, all these protestors and protests are using social accidents as excuses, whereas their real purpose is to disturb public peace and initiate coup to the government. For instance, Kobane protests are called as “October 8 provocations;” both Gezi protests and corruption allegations as “coup attempts;” dissident university students as “foreign forces” and “members of terrorist organisations.” In that way, any challenge to the AKP is immediately demonised and attacked as ‘threat to the state;’ ordinary issues are made into ‘high treason’ and declared as a ‘coup against democratic regime,’ ‘provocation’ or ‘conspiracy.’ Even teasing out in Twitter or Facebook is not allowed.
Through such utterances, the AKP depoliticises political opposition. Manifestations of social conflicts such as demonstrations or marches are denied of their political quality and are valued as security issues that disturb peace and harmony of society. On the one hand, political opposition is criminalised; on the other hand, political rights of the opposition are seized, which altogether count nothing less than a practical ban on dissident politics. With denial of dissident politics, the AKP implies another point as well: No event is taking place in society. Going through last two years’ staggering developments, the AKP still espouses that peace and unity of the society is not disturbed; nothing is causing tension; and people are fully supporting the Party. In short, for the AKP, nothing serious is happening in Turkey. Therefore, AKP’s post-politics combines dislike of politics, denial of dissident politics and the third element of denial of the existence of social conflicts or events.
Lastly, post-politics aims to manage and control the aleatory element in social life. It tries to control the unexpected eventualities that would cause the dissolution of the harmony. Controlling aleatory element, on the other hand, requires pre-emptive offensive action towards events before they take place. That is why post-politics is militarist and cannot do without violence and wars. Domestic Security Bill that was defended by President Erdoğan and eventually approved by the Parliament on March 27, 2015 is the embodiment of this pre-emptive action towards events. This bill gives the police the authority to act pre-emptively and apply pre-emptive detention for prevention during protests.
In the last couple of years, there has been considerable dynamism apparent in the society in Turkey. However, the AKP is responding to social tensions by coercion, police force, and prohibitions. While the AKP regime is getting more authoritarian, political discussions and dialogue are kept in the back seat; dissident politics, on the other hand, are thoroughly denied. So much so that, the AKP’s new interaction with politics creates a post-political era. It remains to be seen how long such a party can survive in the power and where it leads the country.
Dr. Ayşegül Kars Kaynar, Public Administration Department, European University of Lefke
Please cite this publication as follows:
Kars Kaynar, A. (July, 2015), “AKP’s Authoritarianism and Post-Politics”, Vol. IV, Issue 7, pp.20-30, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=9317)
 Yükseker, Deniz; Gökşen, Fatoş; Alnıaçık, Ayşe (2012). “Eğitimin Kalitesizliğini, Sosyo-ekonomik
Eşitsizlikleri ve Cinsiyet Ayrımını Derinleştirme Modeli mi? 4+4+4 Yasası” in Birikim, No.284, pp.62-63
 Ex-Head of Higher Education Council Yusuf Ziya Özcan released a statement on February 24, 2008 calling on rectors to allow students with headscarves on university campuses. On March 11, the Council of State annulled Özcan’s circular. Even so, headscarf was de facto freed in higher education after this date without any legislative amendments. It is achieved through implementation of a different interpretation of the same laws and articles. Accordingly, Article 17 of the Law No 2547 on Higher Education regulates dressing on higher education. It states that dressing is free in higher education institutions provided that it complies with laws. Actually, wearing headscarf is not restricted and banned by any law in force; however, the interpretation of the Article 17 by the Constitutional Court and the Council of State forbids it. So, what happened after 2008 is that, Article 17 of the Law No 2547 is reinterpreted by top administrator and the jurists in such a manner that freed headscarves.
 Published in Official Gazette No. 28789
 Why do we need such an addition? Don’t conservative right parties already comprise and advocate Islamist tenets? Although they share common values, conservatism and Islamism constitute two different political ideologies. In the literature on Turkish politics, “conservative right” is differentiated from “Islamist” parties. Whereas the extant Anavatan Partisi (Motherland Party) (ANAP) and Doğru Yol Partisi (True Path Party) (DYP) are accepted as ‘conservative right,’ the MGH parties like the RP, the FP and Saadet Partisi (Felicity Party) (SP) are deemed as ‘Islamist’ parties. Their relation with Islam is commonly believed to show differences as well. Conservative right is asserted to support “moderate Islam” in contrast to ‘radical Islamism’ of Islamist parties. That’s why attributing Islamist identity to the AKP beside officially espoused conservatism considered important in this article. For more on the difference between Islamism and conservative right, see Mert, Nuray (2000). “The Political History of Center Right Parties: Discourses on Islam, the Nation and the People” in Civil Society in the Grip of Nationalism: Studies on Political Culture in Contemporary Turkey. Yerasimos, G; Vorhoff, K (ed). Orient-Institute; and Yıldız, Ahmet (2003). “Politico-religious Discourse of Political Islam in Turkey: The Parties of National Outlook” in The Muslim World, Vol.93, pp.187-209.
 The indictment of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Republic for the closure of the AKP, [Accessed on 30th May 2015], Available at:
 Opinion of the Chief Public Prosecutor on AKP’s closure case as stated in the indictment.
 However, the court felt short of closing the party; instead, it fined the party and deprived it of a considerable part of its public financing.
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 Zizek, Slovaj (1999). “Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-politics” in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt. Mouffe, Chantal (ed). London: Verso, p.30
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