Swinging between the confusion of his party's function and his authoritarian tendency to dominate the seams of power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reduced the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a hollow organisational structure.
The personification of power in the name of party chief and state president has emerged as a superstructure which has drained the legislative authority of both its design and function of supplying the party with new cadres and faces. In the past, these have fed power back into the party, giving it the means for survival and continuity.
Erdogan has sacked and excluded a number of his party's founding leaders and symbols, and some of its ideological theorists, while his authoritarian approach has caused the resignation of a number of veteran figures. These were leaders who, together with Erdogan, formed a parallel line in the party's rise to power nearly two decades ago. However, eventually they found themselves sidelined in shaping the country's domestic and foreign policy because of the domination of the leader, and his violation of the system which promoted party participation and parliamentary action.
Where does Turkey's ruling AK Party descend to from here? Will its leader, President Erdogan, be immune from the rifts in its ranks amid the bipartisan and political challenges to his power and party base? Does Erdogan still have any options to stop his boat running aground?
All current data indicate that Erdogan and his party are facing a worsening political crisis arising from the unconscious demolition job carried out by the president against his own party, its traditions, and cadres, because of this tendency to concentrate all power in his own hands. There is no longer the process of renewal and vitality in party structures, with self-criticism and permanent review of the party's policies that establish and contribute to managing the country’s internal and external affairs having all but disappeared.
Internally, the AKP's loss of the Istanbul municipality was a sign of desperation in the Turkish voter. Externally, Erdogan's policies have revealed dispersion and recklessness in shaping Turkey's relations with its Arab neighbours and the broader regional and international environment.
It was therefore inevitable that cracks began to form within the ranks of the party, but the most important in the stream of growing internal challenges was that a number of these resigning leaders went on to announce the birth of new parties explicitly directed against the AKP and the approach of its leader. A new phase in Turkish political life has thus been defined.
From outside the AKP, there is now an equally important challenge: the gradual rise of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), with its seizure of the Istanbul municipality from Erdogan. It is also looking to political involvement in some foreign issues, such as its official call for an Istanbul conference dedicated to the Syrian situation and involving all parties from government and opposition.
The convening and sponsorship of this conference by Turkey’s oldest parties could very possibly be the prelude to the shattering of Erdogan and his party’s image at the popular and political levels. It could pull the rug from under his feet, and tear down the deceptive, but dominant framework drawn up by Erdogan to deal with the Syrian crisis, with consequent erosion of all the false Erdoganism and propaganda that has come to exemplify Turkish society.
If Erdogan's authoritarian approach has emptied the AKP of its political function, the AKP and Erdogan have significantly contributed to manufacturing an identity crisis for Turkey, one with political, historical and existential dimensions.