As the decision of the Constitutional Court on whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) should be shut down gets closer, new political figures have started forming alternatives. The expectation that the constitutional court will shut down the AKP has led various politicians to fill the gap that will be left behind. In addition to the continuing political discussions that have taken place with the participation of well-known former politicians and ministers under the name of Patalya Hotel Meetings (Sabah, July 12-13), former Minister of Labor and Social Security Yasar Okuyan has also formed the New Party. (Hurriyet, June 28)
Perhaps the most interesting formation among those newly formed parties, however, is Yeni Olusum Hareketi (YOH), which was founded by a former deputy prime minister from the AKP government, Abdullatif Sener, one of the four founders of the AKP in 2002. Sener recently resigned from the AKP to found the new party (www.yeniolusumhareketi.org).
Unlike other parties, the YOH successfully attracted the attention of the Turkish media. Several factors explain this. First is Abdullatif Sener’s firm stance against corruption. Sener had protested against his own party on this issue and withdrew his nomination to be a member of the parliament in the general election of July 2007. Second, when he was deputy prime minister he successfully reached out to secular segments of the society, which made him an alternative political leader who could fill the gap in case the Constitutional Court bans Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan from participating in politics. Opinion polls indicate that after Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, both of whom may be banned by the court, Sener is one of the most widely supported political leaders on the center-right of the political spectrum (Vatan, July 13).
There are conflicting opinions about whether Sener could successfully turn his positive image into political capital and carry his party to parliament. On the one hand, Sener has so far successfully organized several public gatherings: one in his hometown of Sivas (Hurriyet, April 19) and another more recently in Konya, the heart of the Islamist National Outlook Movement that gave birth to the AKP in 2002. More than three thousand people welcomed him, chanting “Prime Minister Sener” (Vatan, July 13). On the other hand, despite his positive image and some media support from Dogan Media Group, the most powerful media cartel, political observers are not so optimistic about Sener’s success in an election (Perihan Magden, Radikal, July 13, Ahmet Hakan, Hurriyet, July 9, Ahmet Kekec, Star, July 8). One of the major reasons why Sener may not be able to convert his prestige into electoral success is because most of the moderate Islamist groups consider that he betrayed them by associating himself with the “social engineering projects” of those who want to harm the ruling AKP (Zaman, July 13).
Regardless of his success in the short term, in the long run even his presence could significantly damage the ruling AKP’s positive image among ordinary people. In his first rally in Konya, Sener harshly criticized the AKP government (Anadolu Agency, July 13). If the Constitutional Court decides to shut down the AKP or ban Prime Minister Erdogan from party politics, which is highly likely, then Sener’s position in politics in the forthcoming weeks will be very important, because it is no secret that 60 former AKP MPs and many current MPs would join Sener’s party (Bugun, July 13). Right after the Supreme Court prosecutor opened the lawsuit demanding the AKP’s closure, Sener used his connections within the AKP to organize private meetings with AKP MPs to form the new political party (Vatan, April 28).
It seems that Sener’s role in short-term politics will be to divide the ruling party, but it is not clear how deep a political wound he might leave on the face of the AKP, since there is absolutely no sign as to what Erdogan’s plan will be if the court shuts his party down. Sener is in a critical position and must play the right cards at just the right time. Sener could become Erdogan’s Brutus or, with the help of the political climate and a bit of luck, he could be the next leader of Turkey.