New “Good Party” aims to beat Erdoğan at his own game
From the moment Meral Akşener took the stage at the inaugural meeting of her newly-established political party, the packed house began chants of “Prime Minister Meral”.
“Not Prime Minister,” she told them later in her speech. “President.”
It was the first in a series of ambitious predictions for the future of the newly-established Good Party, an opposition grouping formed out of the ruins of the collapsing Nationalist Movement Party which had tactically allied itself to Turkey’s governing Justice and Development (AK) Party.
Throughout her speech, Akşener cast herself as the Adnan Menderes to the AK Party’s İsmet İnönü – a blast from the political past that indicated the sweeping away of a tired old guard by a tide of support from the people.
İnönü, the successor to the republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was dubbed the National Chief in the single-party era and is widely believed to have intervened in the 1946 parliamentary elections. At the very least, he heavily stacked the playing field against the fledgling Democratic Party, which under Menderes proceeded to win the next national elections by a landslide.
Referring to the referendum this year which approved plans to endow the presidency with executive powers, she said:
The April 16 referendum, a dirty referendum, showed us a complete rerun of the 1946 elections. If you don’t get sufficient support from society, the judges will make it up for you …
Democracy is under threat, and the rule of the governing party supersedes everything. It is clear to see that society is at a political dead end. The postmodern National Chief era is in power, but this is not sustainable.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, especially in the early days of the AK Party, also liked to compare himself to Menderes. The latter’s end – he was hanged by a military tribunal after the first coup of the republican era - is seen by Erdoğan supporters as a cautionary tale against allowing another military takeover.
Both Erdoğan and Akşener consider themselves political survivors of military intervention: he cut his teeth as mayor of Istanbul for the Welfare Party under Necmettin Erbakan, which between 1997–1998 was forced out of power and then banned by a state and judiciary still heavily under the influence of the military; she made her name as interior minister in coalition with the same government, fighting tooth and nail the attempts to delegitimise Erbakan’s government.
Erdoğan and a new generation of Islamists would go on to found the AK Party, a strongly-religious party initially divided over questions of loyalties to nation and God.
Akşener, meanwhile, would leave the declining True Path Party for the Nationalist Movement Party – the grand old party of the Turkish far-right, but still internally split between secularists, Islamists, and a minority in favour of bringing back the shamanism of the ancient Turkic tribes.
The “ak” of AK Party is an old Turkish word for white or clean, and was partially intended to imply that the party was free of corruption. The Good Party’s name appears to be an even clearer vow of intent.
Some, however, have noted the similarity of the shape of the party’s name (iyi – good) to one of the symbols of the pre-Islamic Turkic Oghuz tribe, recently brought to prominence in a popular TV series.
The AK Party chose a lightbulb with seven rays of light as its symbol; the Good Party has chosen a sun with eight rays of light: another symbol that the party’s detractors insist smacks of pre-Islamic Turkic religion.
Akşener’s speech continued:
The thousands in this hall will embrace the 80 million in the sun of goodness and will become Turkey. Turkey will embrace its geographical location and will become the world. It will advance further. We will win with the Good Party.
It is clear that Akşener intends to replicate the runaway electoral success of the early AK Party, which came to power within a year of being founded.
Indeed, she explicitly made the comparison to her new party:
In the 2002 elections, our nation was seeking a way out of its problems, and brought this Justice and Development (AK) Party to power. At first they were successful, but after 2007 they entered a visionless era. Being visionless is destructive.
Whatever her vision is to be, Akşener also made reference to a long list of Turkish party founders and leaders from the past as her inspiration, symbolically placing Akşener as the latest leader in a long line.
The question it raised is clear: will the Good Party, so heavily modelled on the early AK Party, be able to convince the Turkish electorate that they deserve their place in history as its successors?