Turkey’s governing party is the country’s most successful political movement in modern times, having not lost a single election since it was founded in 2001.
It capped that record by winning just shy of half the votes cast across the country – its best performance to date – in the general election of 2011.
Its founder, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has often described the AK Party as a modern, conservative party that draws on traditional religious values. He has encouraged comparisons to the popular Christian Democrat movements in power continental Europe.
Indeed, it is the vast Sunni Muslim population of central Anatolia that provides the AK Party with the bulk of its support. Some dismiss this part of Turkish society as the “pious section” (dinci kesim in Turkish) but that term is a gross simplification. It also wrongly assumes they always collectively voted the same way.
Mr Erdoğan’s own political roots are in the National Outlook (Milli Görüş) movement of Necmettin Erbakan, who advocated complete Turkish independence from the West through political Islam. Mr Erbakan’s message may have been appealing during the Cold War years, but abandoning ties with the winning Western powers was simply unfeasible by the 1990s – and Mr Erdoğan recognised that. His AK Party broke away to show it was possible to retain Mr Erbakan’s conservative, religious message without estranging Turkey from the global community.
The AK Party’s electoral success comes from its ability to unite sections of Turkish society beyond the Anatolian heartlands. The party’s appeal was far and wide: liberal intellectuals, ardent nationalists and established secular politicians all flocked to it in the year before the 2002 general election. Part of the appeal was sheer desperation – the divisive politics of the 1990s meant people were prepared to try anything – but part was its shrewd message of tolerance and respect. The AK Party found and retained the centre ground of Turkish politics.
It used its electoral success over the subsequent decade to confront some of the fundamental problems facing Turkey at the beginning of the 21st century. By curbing inflation and reforming the economy, it attracted investors and improved the quality of life for ordinary Turks. It started European Union membership talks and used them to reduce the role of the military in Turkish politics. It increased civil liberties for some marginalised sections of society: Kurds and headscarved women, in particular.
But the party’s success – and the failure of opposition parties to respond to it – has meant there are fewer and fewer checks on its power. Accusations of AK’s increasingly autocratic tendencies have become commonplace; as the party enters its thirteenth year in power in November 2014, its risks overshadowing its own achievements.
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Leader: Ahmet Davutoğlu
Seats in parliament: 312/550
Councils held: xxx[/tab] [tab title=”Timeline”]