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Turkey’s 37th: How Erdogan Started ''Cleansing'' of His Own Party

Over the past 15 years, the AKP has managed to become the main party of Turkey. During this time, it changed ideologically, transforming its initially Islamist ideology into an Islamist-nationalist ideology. Along with changes in ideology and party ‘’cleansing’’ of politicians not loyal to Erdogan, the AKP turns into a ‘’vertical party’’ increasingly merging with the state, - writes Moscow Carnegy Center.

In 2002, when AKP came to power, its success was perceived by many as the victory of real popular democracy over the old and discredited political elite. Indeed, in the first years of its rule, the party actively reformed the country's social and economic system and began negotiations on joining the EU. The political system of Turkey was democratized, attempts were made to integrate the Kurds into it, and even the MPs from the ruling party allowed themselves to vote in parliament against the initiatives of their own government.

But as Erdogan turned from a successful Islamist politician into the ‘’one and only’’ leader of the Turkish nation, he became less and less satisfied with the old party structures of the AKP. Having dealt with independent media, courts, military and the old Constitution, the President of Turkey decided that it was high time to get rid of the remaining restrictions for his personal power, i.e. to clean and reform his own party.

Once again heading the AKP in May, Erdogan promised "changes" and rejuvenation of the party. Since then active party ''cleansing'' has begun. The formal reason for the members’ withdrawal from the party was their connection with the Gulen movement, which is recognized as terrorist in Turkey and which the authorities accuse of organizing a coup attempt on the night of July 15-16, 2016.

At first, only mostly unpopular and corrupt deputies and heads of municipalities were expelled from the party, but in the past few months, several mayors of the large cities that were members of the AKP were forced to resign under the pressure of President Erdogan. Among them were also the mayors of Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara.

The Turkish opposition believes that the mass resignations of the heads of municipalities "on their own" are a grave violation of the country’s Constitution. The opposition constantly emphasizes that these mayors came to power democratically and must leave the same way, and that the current resignations under Erdogan's pressure are absolutely illegal.

Erdogan, acting on the principle of "loyalty is more important than merits", expels from the party all those who can openly criticize him. At one time, such popular Turkish politicians from the ruling AKP, as former Prime Minister and Chief Architect of Turkish foreign policy Ahmet Davutoglu and former President Abdullah Gul in turn voluntarily withdrew from the active politics.

Erdogan needs all this in order to control the ruling party as much as possible on the eve of a series of important elections scheduled for 2019. Then municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Turkey.

Also, there has been a revision of the party’s ideology in order to attract a new electorate without discouraging the old one. A striking example is Erdogan's new rhetoric about the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Recently, Erdogan started praising and glorifying Ataturk in order to attract the nationalist-kemalist sector of the Turkish society.

Besides, Erdogan and the AKP enjoy the support of most of the media and think tanks close to the state. In such circumstances, there is very little chance that AKP will be removed from power in 2019 simply by the elections results.

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