The four blocs propping up Erdoğan's AKP post coup

October 9, 2019: the day Turkey and its proxies commenced a daring and open-ended military assault into the Syrian territories controlled by the SDF, widely known as Rojava, marks a watershed in the country’s recent history. Its impact on Turkish politics is comparable only to the putsch on July 15, 2016. 

But, what has changed in the course of the past three years? And in what ways do these changes point to a new break in the bumpy course of the country?  

In the first commentary of the series, I identified the convergence of three political factors that distinguish the post-putsch regime from previous governments and periods of authoritarianism in the country. Let us discuss further the distinctive dynamics of the post-October 9 period. 

Leaving aside the regional and broader global determinants and undercurrents, which will be the subject of an upcoming commentary, the new stage of the  Erdoğan regime is characterized by the juncture of the following domestic dynamics: 

  • a weak, particularly a deeply fragmented and tribalized state network deprived of bureaucratic mechanisms of resilience; 
  • an injured and vulnerable cult of personality; 
  • (Imperial) grandiosity as the social glue / political rhetoric; 
  • a (difficult to reverse) permanent state of warfare.

The AKP was founded in 2001 as an alliance by pragmatic, EU and NATO friendly, and pro-business splitters from Erbakan’s Virtue Party (FP) to embrace broader segments of the society. Yet, the party also resorted to alliances with external organizations from its early days up to now.

One major reason for the unending partner seeking, despite almost two decades long uninterrupted term in government, is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has strikingly failed to raise and maintain its own cadres. For instance, today there is perhaps only a handful of founding or veteran AKP figures still actively occupying a position in the party, government or bureaucracy. 

Further, even between 2007 and 2011 - during the heyday of the AKP hegemony over Turkish politics - it would later clearly appear that the crucial seats of the state apparatus were staffed, by and large, by Erdoğan’s major ally at the time, the Gülenists. This shows how pivotal the role of the Gülenists was in pushing the AKP forward in its conquest of bureaucratic strongholds of the guardians of old Turkey. It did, on the other hand, leave him face-to-face with the knotty question of how to re-organize and staff the bureaucracy after the widespread purges following the coup. 

Erdoğan had already built up a ballot alliance with the far right MHP to secure the AKP’s majority in the parliament after the June 7, 2015 election defeat. Even so, following the coup in July 2016, he would be obliged to incorporate more groups to procure the necessary cadres for the bureaucracy and the army, whose upper echelons have been disproportionally evacuated after the widespread purges. 

This time, unlike previous periods, Erdoğan would have to adopt not one major ally but many small and larger ones who are often rivals or competitors among themselves. These allies included the MHP, certain segments of the old military and civil bureaucracy and several Sunni religious orders with varying influence. 

The new fragile coalition was not based on doctrinal affinity, but rather on a promise of homage to Erdoğan, and most importantly on institutional interests. The reshuffling of the ruling bloc lets these groups lick their lips as the Erdoğan leadership handed the state apparatus to these varied and often competing groups on a silver platter. 

The winning bids belonged to those like the MHP, that have the political leverage against Erdoğan, like anti-Atlantic pact Kemalists who represent well-trained and experienced cadres, or ‘select’ Sunni religious orders who promised the foremost allegiance and obedience to the leader. 

Let me open a parenthesis here to elaborate on the creation of the ruling bloc after the coup. 

This precarious coalition comprises of four major components: 

  • Nepotistic affiliates, that is, circles and individuals who are either close acquaintances of Erdoğan or connected to him through kinship; 
  • Indoctrinated Sunnist / Umma-ist intelligentsia and activists; 
  • Opportunist centre-right conservatives; 
  • Persons/groups whose institutional affiliations and ideological allegiances lie with a non-AKP movement/party but attached are to the bloc for strategic, tactical or personal interests. 

The most dynamic flank of the bloc, surely, is the fourth component. Particularly because, they embody segments of the ruling alliance who would benefit, ironically, both from a winning and a losing Erdoğan; as in the former scenario their allegiance to the cult of personality would pay back in terms of securing and maintaining their access to state resources. 

The latter case, on the other hand, would increase their political leverage and endow them with more bargaining power vis-à-vis the Erdoğan leadership. 

Therefore, it would not be surprising to see tactical maneuverings and strategic positionings of the groups in this fourth component determining the regime’s fate and in shaping the post-Erdoğan political panorama.           

A post-putsch bureaucratic restructuring proved to be one more chapter in Erdoğan’s counterproductive survivalist efforts to secure his grip on power, after the ballot fiasco in the March 31, 2019 municipal elections, the centre-right conservatives’ search for new political options hastened. 

The weight of the nepotistic circle and non-AKP groups meanwhile reached their climax. This would be yet another indicator of deepening vulnerability of the state network which had already lost much of its institutionalism, merit-based bureaucracy, mannerisms and formal separation of powers. 

Decisions made by the leadership allowed the state apparatus. Its resources were invaded by the kin and by the allies vying for their own and diverse interests. 

The next commentary will elaborate on the remaining three dynamics of the new stage of Erdoğan regime in Turkey.



© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.