Erdogan’s reforms leave their mark on his 10-year premiership
Matteo Tacconi 14 March 2013

The Party’s closure and Erdogan’s sentencing were key events of the so-called ‘Post-Modern coup’ in which the military class – staunch guardian of the secular-Republican ideology, intervened to defend the politico-cultural establishment put in place by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920’s, yet again. The Welfare Party’s political agenda, that produced its first Islamic head of government in 1996, was stamped as being Islamist by the military and therefore repudiated.

Several years have passed since these events. It has been ten years since Erdogan’s inauguration as premier, which occurred at the end of the ban and four months after the general election in November 2002, a victory for the AKP with 37% of the vote. Indeed, current President, Abdullah Gul guided the government in its first phase. A snapshot of Turkey today reveals that power relations have been overturned. Armed forces no longer have as much power or the force to evict Erdogan and the AKP from the building. Islam is predominant in Turkey’s political arena while Kemalism is in decline. However, as some say casually, Erdogan does not have the country’s Islamization in mind. His objective is to find a modus vivendi between democracy and Islam without altering the Republican structure. Is he succeeding? Some seem to think so and others do not. The process is still ongoing and its outcome depends on multiple factors. What is certain is that in ten years the AKP – emerging from the Welfare Party’s ashes with the idea to stop it with the antagonistic verve – has managed to increase its consensus. This must mean something. In 2007, the AKP obtained 46% of the vote, whereas in 2011 this figure touched 50%.

It is impossible to interpret AKP’s season without economic analysis. In fact there exists a direct proportional correlation between the curve of Erdogan’s consensus and economic growth. When the AKP rose to power, Turkey was in a pitiful state. In 2000 to 2001 there was very severe economic crisis that reached its peak on Turkey’s so-called ‘Black Wednesday’. On February 19, 2001 the stock exchange collapsed, the Turkish lira devalued alarmingly and in following weeks people withdrew their savings causing an enormous cash-flow crisis in the banking sector.

That page has been removed and a comparison between current figures and crisis figures is unforgiving. From 2002 to 2007 the Turkish Republic – the seventeenth largest economy of the world – has seen the longest uninterrupted expansion phase in its history. The GDP has grown at an average of 6-7%. In 2008 and 2009 the financial crisis caused a slowdown but growth started again: +9.2% in 2010 and 8.5% in 2011. Now, the advance has slowed down but wealth is continuing to increase. Since Erdogan is Prime Minister, personal wealth has gone from 3500 to 10500 dollars.

The GDP is not the only indicator of the Turkish advance. Deficit dropped from 15% in 2002 to 3.5% in 2010. Public debt has been reduced from 77% (2001) to 40%. Inflation that had risen to the stars in 2000-2001 is now under control at roughly 6%.

These results are the fruit of reformist politics promoted by the AKP. Liberalizations, privatizations, the creation of a favourable atmosphere for foreign investment in the country, support to medium-scale enterprises, the reform of the public administration’s fiscal and monetary discipline and in the private sector – the rest followed.

The economic boom fuelled consensus into the AKP’s reservoir, expanding its traditional fold represented by lower classes and by the rural population. A nascent urban middle class and entrepreneurship in rapidly developing Anatolian cities have become additional segments of the AKP block.

An important weight, in the second case, has been played by Fethullah Gulen’s word. Thinker and predicator, resident in the US for some time, Gulen, a sort of Muslim Calvinist interprets a way of thinking, which unites faith and business, devotion and modernity, socio-religious cohesion with education and work ethics. His movement, Gulenism consists in a network of associations, which provide support to the new entrepreneurial class by helping it to find new commercial outlets. Erdogan and the AKP have backed this vocation backing Anatolian business’ drive to expand and provide work, to explore new markets and feel global.

Translation by Maria Elena Bottigliero