The role of the dissident parties from the Justice and Development Party in deepening the Turkish opposition

I'm an image! 2021 / 23 / Mar

The role of the dissident parties from the Justice and Development Party in deepening the Turkish opposition

Abdul Rahman Atef Abu Zaid

  The Justice and Development Party has dominated political life in Turkey, since it came to power in 2002, and Erdogan won nearly 12 of the previous elections, and that the issue of preserving the voting public and the electoral base is the basic and essential condition for achieving the independence of the parties as an (institution); Thus, continuous communication with the public sphere and public opinion is among the main goals of any party, especially the Justice and Development Party. However, recently, external pressures began to manifest in the dispute with Washington, especially because of the disagreement over the conclusion of the S-400 missile deal with Russia and rapprochement with it, and Turkey's escalation of several crises, on top of which is its involvement in Libya and its conclusion of the border demarcation agreement with the Government of National Accord, which angered the region and the European Union, which began imposing sanctions on Turkey as it carries out illegal operations in the eastern Mediterranean. On the domestic front, the Corona crisis has exacerbated the economic crisis that Turkey is going through, in addition to the intensification of the political opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party. Turkey witnessed the birth of two new parties that defected from the Justice and Development Party, and it constitutes the widest defection movement of Erdogan's old comrades who participated with him in establishing the Justice and Development Party, and were among the factors of his strength during its years of prosperity, before it began its journey of decline, which reached its climax since the move to endorse the presidential system through the referendum in April 2017, and then the elections. At the end of March 2019, Erdogan's party suffered heavy losses in the major Turkish states, especially Istanbul.[1]


First - The nature of dissident parties in Türkiye:

The phenomenon of dissident parties in Turkey is not born today in Turkish party life, but rather extends for several decades, and these parties usually fail to attract a large number of votes, and Turkey has witnessed many dissident parties that did not achieve significant electoral progress, but the beginning of the exception to the rule is represented in the case of the Justice and Development Party, and its ability to achieve remarkable electoral success surprisingly.

The rise of the Justice and Development Party had special circumstances, as at the beginning of the nineties the political Islam stream represented by the Islamic Virtue Party split into the traditionalist wing led by Necmettin Erbakan, and the reformers wing led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the separation took place officially by the decision of the Turkish Constitution Court on June 22, 2001, and the reformers wing realized that they needed to change the conservative and hard-line perspective towards democracy, human rights and other pivotal issues, and they headed to establish the Justice and Development Party, in order to reduce the influence and neutralize the secular bloc, especially in the army, The Justice and Development Party tended to approach the European Union and take it as a vital ally, and the party also realized that if it did not respect secularism, it would not be able to continue and participate in the Turkish political system effectively, and therefore they moved away from religious discourse and did not use Islamic slogans.[2]

Where the Justice and Development Party took advantage of the severe economic crisis that Turkey went through in 2001, and it announced, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, an economic reform program, and the party expressed its commitment to implement the program, and the Justice and Development Party was announcing its adoption and support for free market policies, with the aim of attracting foreign investment, integrating Turkey into the global economy, and the founding statement of the party included announcing the adoption of the principle of privatization, and this coincided with the support of the “Musiyad” for the party, which is the association of religious and conservative businessmen and industrymen; In addition to exploiting the period of loss of confidence in the existing parties, as Erdogan announced that his party had come to fill the political vacuum in Turkey, and the new party benefited from the prevailing general popular mood, rejecting all the parties in the arena, and the voters were looking forward to new faces announcing the fight against corruption, saving the economy and achieving political stability [3].

Then, in late 2019, two parties split from the Justice and Development Party, the first of which was the Future Party, under the leadership of former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, followed by the establishment of the Democracy and Progress Party led by former Finance Minister Ali Babajan in March 2020; It is worth noting that the signs of disunity in the party began to appear after the June 2015 elections, as a result of Erdogan’s alliance with the anti-Western Nationalist Movement Party. Lee, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party, stressed the need to confront the parallel organization of the opposition parties, as well as not relying on joining the European Union, and heading east towards China, Russia and Iran, while Davutoglu was emphasizing the continuation of the alliance with the West.

Second – Opportunities for new party leaders:

A- Ahmet Davutoglu:

Ahmet Davutoğlu is considered a political leader with an ideological vision. In his view, Islam and conservative values constitute the cornerstone of the main values. On the other hand, Ali Babacan follows a conservative lifestyle, with a relatively non-ideological political perspective, as he has a technocratic vision, relying on his experience in managing the economy as a main advantage as a politician. He tries to reach the voters by focusing on the rule of law, good governance, and meeting the basic needs of citizens; These trends shaped the forms of criticism directed by both leaders to the ruling party, as Babacan criticized the shift in the party's authoritarian, conspiratorial, and anti-Western policy, while Davutoglu directs a personal criticism, as he criticizes Erdogan and his family, and this is something that Babajan avoids so as not to enter into a direct confrontation with the party. [4]

In addition, Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his leadership of the Future Party, newly emerging from the Justice and Development Party and supported by Abdullah Gul, the former president of Turkey, is likely to follow the path of Erdogan's anti-Western foreign policy, as he is a man who tends to be a decision-making leader centered like Erdogan.

B- Ali Babacan:

Among the two leaders of the two newly dissident opposition parties, it seems that Babacan has a chance in the long run. Instead of entering into a direct confrontation with Erdogan and trying to undermine him, it is better for him to gain popularity and wait until Erdogan undermines himself until the time of the next presidential elections to be held in 2023. Also, Babacan’s policy, which emphasizes international cooperation and the role of institutions in strengthening the economy, is likely to lead to stability in Turkish foreign policy, and this is something that European countries prefer. Turkey's pro-Western policies and economic cooperation, which will support the rule of law and human rights in Turkey[5].

And with regard to Ali Babacan’s association with the economic renaissance that was achieved at the beginning of the rule of the Justice and Development Party as the economic leader of the party, and the inclusion of the list of the founders of his party, democracy and progress over the elites that are characterized by sophistication and long political experience, which will directly threaten the Justice and Development Party, which may make the Justice and Development Party predict the idea of renewal in the party and addressing the mistakes that the Turkish street has recently begun to criticize Erdogan and some members of the ruling party; This idea of renewal may extend to include practical steps in liquidating the party from some aspects that have become a target for street criticism, especially in light of the existence of an agreement between the two new parties on some fundamental issues such as the implementation of the parliamentary system and the repercussions of the ruling party’s deviation from the founding principles that may make the alliance between them against Erdogan possible. [6]

Third - Factors Affecting the Intensification of Internal Opposition:

A- The decline in the popularity of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party:

Although Erdogan was able, through his party's influence on government institutions in the face of the opposition, to regain the majority of votes in his favour, and exploited the national feeling to win supporters, and acted against the claims of Cyprus regarding the natural gas fields in the Middle East, and launched military operations against Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey, Syria and Iraq to win the votes of the extreme right, religion was used to win the support of the Sunni Islamic center, as orders were directed to change the school curricula, and he ordered the building of mosques in many countries, but in terms of foreign policy, Turkey has headed towards Russia; Therefore, restoring relations with the West, reviving the peace process with the Kurds, and getting out of the Syrian crisis is one of the priorities of the new parties in front of Erdogan's policies, and that Erdogan's performance in the new elections does not work because of the failure of economic measures and their contradiction with ideological aspirations, in addition to the crisis and economic stagnation and the failure that occurred in the municipal elections and city councils led to a reduction in popular support for the Justice and Development Party [7].

The current coalition government consisting of the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party maintains 44 out of 600 seats in the Turkish parliament. The coalition won the parliamentary elections held in June 2018 with more than 53 percent of the vote. According to a report issued by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, in January 2020, the popularity of the ruling coalition has fallen to about 50 percent to win the elections[8], and a new poll conducted by the “Eurasia Center for Public Opinion Research” revealed, in late July 2020, that the popularity of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declined in his country, explaining that “his policies in recent years have prompted many citizens to back down from his support,” and the poll showed that 4 8.6 percent will not vote for Saleh in the upcoming presidential elections, while 38.9 percent said they will vote for him; And a poll for the same center had shown in late May 2020 that 46.9 percent of those surveyed would not vote for Erdogan if he ran for a second term, while 39.2 percent said they would vote; Regarding Erdogan's "general performance" as president, 40.2 percent said he did not succeed, 30.9 percent were neutral, while 28.9 percent thought he was successful; In response to the question of the overall performance of the AKP, 41.9 percent of the voters said it was a failure, while 30.3 percent found it a success, and 27.8 percent were neutral[9].

B- The nature of pluralistic partisan life in Türkiye:

After the transition to multi-party life in Turkey by 1946, Turkish political life was characterized by the "Westminster model" of democracy, where there are two main parties and they are based on the weight of legislation, until the 1960 coup d'état. Multi-party, and it was a very important change for Turkey in the path of democracy[10], and therefore the pluralistic system in Turkey leaves space for many parties to appear on the scene and attract voters and form alliances that enable them to compete.

C- Absolute instability of the electoral base of the Justice and Development Party:

The Justice and Development Party is not an ideological party, or an Islamic party in the traditional Arab sense. It is a mass popular party, and this type of party does not have a solid basic base that continues at the same level as the Islamic, leftist, or right-wing Kurdish parties and others. A segment called the center-right among them is addressed by a large group of conservative, nationalist, liberal, Islamic, who do not see themselves in other parties that used to consider themselves elite parties, but this does not mean that the Justice and Development Party is unable to maintain its lead in the elections, but the mass parties after a while In terms of governance, it is difficult to maintain the same voting base, because there is a kind of habituation and erosion that often afflicts some political parties, which makes it an opportunity for opposition parties, especially the newly dissident parties, to attract a broad electoral base.

In addition, it is difficult for the Justice and Development Party to present visible elites emanating from the party like Erdogan, especially after several old cadres founding the party, such as Ali Babajan and Ahmed Davutoglu, left and formed other opposition poles in front of the Justice and Development Party itself. At the same time, they present themselves as potential alternatives to Erdogan and the ruling party, in addition to the presence of competition from the old opposition leaders, led by Kemal Kilicdar Oglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, the main opposition party in Turkey.

D- The increasing pressures that the Justice and Development Party is going through:


The Justice and Development Party faces many crises inside and outside the country, and there are also problems within the party itself, and these files are likely to push towards strengthening the momentum for the internal movement on the part of the Turkish opposition parties or those that are nascent in influencing the popularity of the Justice and Development Party, especially since all the recent electoral events witnessed a significant decline in the percentages obtained by the party starting from the referendum on the constitutional amendments on April 16, 2017, through the municipal elections in March 2019, and therefore the new parties tend towards changing the internal political equation, through Coalition between the new parties and opposition parties, or working to move unilaterally to put pressure on the Justice and Development Party[11].


Thus, it is likely that new electoral alliances for the opposition will come along the lines of the parliamentary and presidential elections that took place in June 2018, when the Republican People’s Party, which is the main opposition party in the country, tended to agree with the Good Party, the Islamic Felicity Party and the Democratic Party. This agreement helps the smaller parties in the coalition to avoid a rule that requires them to obtain at least ten percent of the vote in order to be allowed parliamentary representation[12].

Fourth - The proposed scenarios:

Previous developments raise important questions about the scenarios governing the future of the opposition in Turkey and the extent of their impact on the Turkish regime and its orientations internally and externally, which can be summarized as follows:

1- Impact scenario:

Based on the difficulty of winning one of the opposition parties, whether old or recently dissident, in the (presidential) elections, because the ruling coalition party continues to retain the largest voting base so far. The biggest impact that the newly dissident parties from the Justice and Development Party can leave is their alliance with other opposition parties, or their formation of a third front, and in any case they are likely to cut part of the share of one of the major parties in the elections.

2- Failure scenario:

The issue of the failure of the newly splinter parties from the Islamist trend to compete with the Justice and Development Party led by Erdoğan is moot. It could be repeated as the failure of Abd al-Latif Şener, who resigned from the Justice and Development Party in 2007, established the Turkey Party that became the proverbial failure, and ended up joining the secular Republican People’s Party.

3. The coalition rule scenario:

  Over the past two decades, only four major political parties were leading, namely, the Justice and Development Party, the Republican People's Party, the Nationalist Movement, and the Kurdish Democratic Party; However, the upcoming elections will have new parties, most notably the Good and Future Party, Democracy and Progress Party, and these parties, although they do not compete for a large share in Parliament, have become a reason for dispersal of voter votes and depriving any political party of obtaining a majority in Parliament. With the end of an era and the chances of one political party obtaining the parliamentary majority, the Turkish parties have recently resorted to alliances. The Justice and Development Party and the National Movement Party formed the "Alliance of the People," which has the majority in the current parliament, while the opposition parties formed the "Nation Alliance."

The ruling Justice and Development Party is no longer able to manage the country's affairs on its own, as it is forced to return and consult with the National Movement Party to pass any major decisions, especially constitutional amendments in Parliament, as the party cannot pass any decision in Parliament without obtaining the votes of its ally, the National Movement Party. In addition, the opposition, if it wins, will be composed of at least 4 political parties, which means an unstable coalition rule that will lead the country to a state of declining political and economic stability[13].