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Erdogan is still in the driving seat

A newspaper once published a report announcing the death of American author Mark Twain; he sent a message saying, "The report about my death is rather exaggerated." This anecdote is used by American politicians when they wish to deny a report about them. It is, consequently, possible for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to use it should he wish to address Arab journalists and politicians who have rushed to announce his political death and that of his party in the wake of the Turkish election result last Sunday.

It is true that the result points clearly to a regression for the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP), which has governed in Turkey for the past 12 years, an unprecedented record since the republic was established. Even so, the party is still in the driving seat; it has the biggest parliamentary bloc and its former leader is today the president. The next three parties in terms of election results have so many disagreements among them that it is almost impossible for them to form a coalition government; even if they could, it would be unlikely to last long. This means that another election may have to be convened within the next year. Should this happen, the AKP is very likely to bounce back and enjoy a comfortable majority enabling it to form the government again.

This is what the supporters of the ruling party believe will happen and so do many analysts in Istanbul, to the extent that some have gone as far as claiming that the election results were a political intrigue by the shrewd Erdogan with the aim of exposing the opposition parties and their inability to run the country. After all, he is still the president who holds all the political and economic strings together with the army and the treasury. Furthermore, his party (which in theory is no longer his party after he became president – although everyone knows that he has the final say in the AKP) is the most widespread, organised and disciplined. It continues to dominate the country and to control most municipalities and local councils.

The party (or the president, as there is not much difference) is likely to use this election setback as a means of deliverance from a commitment that was made, unlike any other party, to ban its members from standing in more than three successive elections. The idea was meant to inject new blood and renew party cadres. In the recent election, a good number of the best cadres, with long experience and important expertise, lost. They included the architect of the Turkish economy Ali Babacan, the articulate Bulent Arinc, the organisation's strongman with his Ottoman moustache, Abdulkadir Aksu, and seventy other party leaders and founding members. All will return, and will be boosted, in the expected early election without the party having to forfeit that commitment.

The party also hopes that what happened will become a "lesson" for the voters who deserted it, those who woke up the next morning to see a drop in value of the Turkish currency and another in the stock exchange; and woke up on the third day to see the press publishing reports about the cancellation of contracts with Turkish companies; and heard on the fourth day talk about the threats facing the grand projects injected by the AKP into daily economic life to create jobs, affluence, a middle class and prosperity. A leading figure within the party, who requested anonymity, said to me: "The Turks have forgotten who created all this prosperity. The new generation is taking this stability for granted as if it were a natural permanent state of affairs in the Turkish state. They seem to have forgotten how their parents lived." These were references to the political instability that prevailed in the republic for decades and the economic difficulties that preceded the rise of the AKP. Such a sense of confidence and arrogance is one of the problems facing the AKP. You hear it being referred to often by the Turkish opposition. It is indeed one of the issues that the party needs to address and rectify. I witnessed an exchange between a former party deputy who did not win in the election – and was very bitter and angry – and a young researcher and journalist close to the party. It was about the necessity for the AKP to conduct a review and admit its mistakes that have led to losing so many voters, especially in the Eastern Anadolu and within Istanbul itself.

The tone of the discussion kept going up all the way to the president himself. The former deputy refused to accept the claim made by someone that Erdogan was intervening in everything and that the people were already feeling unhappy about that. The young man responded: "We all know that he intervenes in everything and that he is the strongest [man in the party]. But it does not matter how we, his supporters, view this. It is true that it pleases us and makes us feel he is a strong leader. However, we must hear what others are saying. Perception is sometimes more powerful than reality."

Such debate is governed by ancient Ottoman rules, particularly so within the Justice and Development Party, where respect and hierarchy are observed strictly. However, the shock caused by the election in contrast with the high expectations provoked the youth and fuelled their desire to open a debate within the party. This, anyway, is exactly what was promised by party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu who said that there would be a comprehensive dialogue all the way down to the level of local councils on the fringes.

The Turks will eventually put their house in order. They will engage in an interplay and will settle scores among themselves. They may even plot intrigues against one another, but they will do all of this using political tools only, such as forging alliances, changing positions, effecting exclusions and striking deals. They will engage in a "what is mine and what is yours?" sort of debate.

There is no army to intervene nor an intelligence service to conspire. Democracy is well established here and the Turkish State is erect and stable. The arguments put forward by Arab media commentators are futile. Even the few Arab capitals that remain hostile to and suspicious of Erdogan and his party know nothing about Turkey apart from Erdogan and his party. If you were to ask any Arab foreign minister for the name of the leader of the People's Republican Party he would not know it, with the exception, perhaps, of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who developed a relationship with the Turkish opposition that has been of no use to him. Our sample foreign minister, however, knows were Assad himself might end up tomorrow.

During the current "transitional period", and until Turkey settles down completely in the hands of the Justice and Development Party once more, its involvement in the region's events is bound to slow down. It will not end its previous commitments, for these are state commitments as described by Turkish political commentator Zahid Gul. Yet, the priority for the president and his party will be to address the internal situation and prepare for the next elections, which are inevitable.

The problem is that events in the region will not come to a halt. However, there is no cause for concern bearing in mind that Saudi Arabia is back in regional politics and is now filling the gap that remained void for several years. The Libyan crisis is on its way to a resolution and Yemen is a purely Saudi affair. As for Iraq, no one seems willing to come close to it. However, Turkey has an important role to play in Syria where events are escalating quite rapidly and seem to wait for no one, especially in the north. As for the south, the Saudis and Jordanians are performing their duties there. When north meets south, though, it will be imperative for someone to call Mr Erdogan and request him to implement quickly what had been agreed upon. He remains the driver of the big Turkish bus.

Jamal Khashogji is a Saudi writer, journalist and commentator. Translated from AlHayat newspaper, 13 June, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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