Ruben Safrastyan

For the first time opposition within the Justice and Development Party (JDP) showed itself on the 3rd of October, 2005, during the party conference, discussing the text of the framework document, proposed by the EU, and containing a circle of the basic questions to be discussed in the talks on Turkey’s membership. A group of the leading members of the party, Members of Parliament, were against signing of this document, being confident that it would infringe Turkish sovereignty. That time JDP Chairman and Prime Minister R.T.Erdoghan succeeded in achieving some consensus within the party on this important question only at the expense of a significant concession: he promised all “oppositionists” to include them into the list of candidates to the parliament from the JDP for the next national elections without discussion of their nominations by local party organizations.

During the following months the process of crystallization of the opposition group within the JDP continued. Its activity was intensified, and its actual leaders Member of Parliament Turhan Çömez from Balykesir, MP Mahmut Koçak from Afyon and MP Fuad Geçen from Hatay started criticizing the Government, insisting that some Ministers were tired and made mistakes. It became known that oppositionists demanded resignation of the Minister of Industry and Trade Ali Coşkun, one of the most influential JDP figures in Turkish policy and business, and the Minister of Labor and Social Protection Murat Başesgioğlu. They also publicly expressed doubts that Minister of Finances Kemal Unakıtan should continue to hold his position, being in the center of the big scandal, related with the mass media accusations in financial manipulations. One of the leaders of the opposition Turhan Çömez addressed him a letter demanding immediate resignation as long as his persistent desire to keep the ministerial portfolio was starting to be dangerous “for the party and for the country.” Fuad Geçen appealed to start against the official procedure of calling K.Unakıtan back from his ministerial post. The situation with the Minister of Finances was so remarkable, because he is R.T.Erdogan’s personal friend and from the narrow circle of the JDP leadership.

Accusations of the party dissidents got support from abroad, which was unexpected enough for the local observers. The London-based influential newspaper “Financial Times” for the first time seriously criticized the economic policy of Erdogan’s Government, accusing it in incompetence and populism. According to the newspaper, the Government looks “tired and disunited,” and if appropriate measures are not taken, “Turkey may find itself in a difficult situation” in the nearest months.

The opposition’s demands were discussed at the regular Consultative Meeting of the JDP on March 11-12, which was attended by MPs from JDP, members of the JDP Central Committee and founder members of the party. The JDP leadership, taking it as an important step toward restoration of the unity of the party, carried out a solid preparatory work, even trying to keep the course of the Meeting in secret so much as possible. Mass media access was limited, participants of the meeting were instructed not to give interviews, and it was decided that only the JDP press-secretary was allowed to make a statement for the press on the results of the Meeting.

However, mass media knew some details of the preparations and the course of the Meeting. The JDP leadership decided to make concession to the opposition in most issues. Its demands on reshuffling of the government were included into the preliminary agenda of the Assembly and there have already been selected new nominees to head appropriate ministries. As it was expected, former trade union activist and MP Ağah Kafkas from Çorum will be approved as a nominee for the position of the Minister of Labor and Social Security, and MP Hasan Anğı from Konya – as a nominee for the position of the Minister of Industry and Trade. A meeting of the opposition leaders with R.T.Erdogan was also planned. The text of Erdogan’s speech at the Meeting became known to the press as well, and it was composed in conciliatory tone. Prime Minister admitted in that speech that there were mistakes in the Government’s work. At the same time he was definite concerning K.Unakıtan and had no intention to sacrifice him. K.Unakitan was just ordered to present appropriate clarifications.

During the Meeting opposition also tried to formulate some political demands. In particular, they raised the question about cancellation of the ban on wearing traditional Muslim clothing by women in public places. This point was included into the JDP’s election program and allowed to obtain support of the program of the influential Muslim circles. However, thanks to the resolute opposition of the President of the country A.Sezer and the military, Erdogan was pressed to postpone fulfilling that pre-election promise. The text of Erdohan’s speech shows that he is not going to give up in this question to his opponents, though not ruling out to do it in the future.

As a whole, the JDP leadership was unable to achieve reconciliation with those deputies who expressed dissident ideas at the Meeting. Quite contrary: the opposition used the Meeting for consolidation of its ranks. After the Meeting the above mentioned Mahmut Koçak and Fuad Geçen as opposition leaders made public their criticism of some members of the Cabinet and even Prime Minister. R.T.Erdogan was particularly criticized for the loss of ties with wide party circles, for the excessively “nervous” reaction for the criticism, etc. However, they failed to formulate their own political platform, alternative to Erdogan’s and his group’s.

The lack of one and unanimous leader to be able to compete with R.P.Erdogan as well as the absence of more or less formulated political platform at present makes even a theoretical possibility for opposition to endanger the positions of such an undoubtedly skillful and experienced politician as Erdogan unbelievable. The events of the following months have just proved this assumption. As a result of the energetic actions of the Prime Minister Mahmut Koçak and Fuad Geçen were demonstratively ousted from the JDP ranks, so they joined the ranks of independent MPs. They did not get any support from the other JDP members, who also had oppositional moods and, as a matter of fact, the opposition inside the party was crashed and ceased to exist. The ruling pro-Islamist party of Prime Minister R.T.Erdogan has consolidated its ranks and seems ready to the expected autumn bitter political battles with Kemalists, wishing to get back to power.

July 11, 2006