Analysis

Repercussions of the Divisions within the Saadet Party on Turkish Politics 

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The chairman of the high advisory board of the Saadet party and the President of the National Vision Movement (Milli Gorus), Oğuzhan Asiltürk, called the Saadet party’s members to hold a special conference. 

On Twitter, Asiltürk claimed that the current Party’s administration had diverted it from its main course and objectives, so the meeting aimed to change those in charge. 

Moreover, Asiltürk’s tweets criticized the Saadet Party administration in multiple aspects, some of which stated that the Party neither caters to the needs of the next generation nor has an effect on them— highlighting the fact that the Party must follow Necmettin Erbakan’s directions.

The Saadet Party between the Nation Alliance and the People’s Alliance: 

Temel karamollaoğlu, the president of the Saadet Party, initiated the conflict due to his decision of joining the “Nation Alliance” in the parliamentary election in 2018, indicating that the Islamist Saadet Party would be an ally to the opposing secular CHP against the conservative parties (AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party).

By joining the alliance, Saadet Party received two votes in the Turkish Parliament for the first time in 20 years. Consequently, it began to function according to this alliance in dissenting the government. Moreover, its rhetorics pledged to be about Islamic concerns and foreign policy took another turn in mostly discussing the country’s economic matters and freedom issues. 

Temel Karamollaoğlu believes that the Party needs novel “open-minded” members who can maintain relationships with the secular parties during that alliance, causing a tremendous dispute within the Party whose members claimed that it started to lose its identity.

Islamist conservatives in the Party, along with Oğuzhan Asiltürk as their chairman, had a conviction that the Party’s path was diverted dangerously into two parallel directions:

  • The Saadet Party limited its rhetoric to criticize the government’s economic and social aspects and diverted from the pure Islamic discourse.
  • The Saadat Party replaced its leading members and its Central Committee with new leaders who are less engaged with the Party’s conservative ideology.

This replacement campaign went beyond the Party administration in Ankara as Karamollaoğlu worked diligently to change the leaders in different cities. For example, he attempted to disqualify Istanbul’s provincial chairman, Abdullah Sevim, who claimed that Oğuzhan Asiltürk nominated him for his current position. In fact, Sevim resisted the change and refused to resign until Oğuzhan Asiltürk intervened and demanded Sevim’s retirement to avoid sedition. 

The policy that the Saadet Party carried out was met with adverse reactions. The Anatolian Youth Association, the Party’s youth wing, acted in contrast to the Party’s decisions, following Oğuzhan Asiltürk’s lead and exacerbating the dispute. 

The most striking example of the conflict in the wings of the party was that of Boğaziçi University. Students who were against the appointment of the new dean used an abusive image of the Kaaba that was deemed an insult towards Islam by the Turkish people. During that period, the Anatolian Youth Association organized a protest that condemned the disrespect against Kaaba. 

Despite the Turkish people’s consensus against this disrespect, Ali Aktaş, Saadet Party’s youth wing provincial chairman, stated that the poster was a matter of freedom of speech and was not offensive!

These statements made Oğuzhan Asiltürk intervene to dismiss Ali Aktaş from the party, in a clear message of objection to the new cadres of the Saadet Party.

A Historic Opportunity for Erdoğan and the Ak Party in 2023 

Erdoğan did not give much significance to Saadet Party’s joining the Nation Alliance (opposing wing) in the parliamentary election in 2018. On the contrary, in 2018’s election and the previous one, under MHP’s influence, he refused to alliance with the Saadet party. However, in 2019, Ak Party lost the local election of Istanbul for the first time. When Ak Party realized that the meager amount of votes that the Saadet Party has is adequate for it to acquire Istanbul back, it started to reconstruct its relationship. 

Binali Yıldırım, the AK Party nominee for Mayor of Istanbul, initiated this conciliation when he visited The National Vision Movement’s (Milli Görüş) newspaper, Millî Gazete. During his visit, Yıldırım delivered this message: “brothers/sisters in faith stand by each other, not the opposite.” 

These efforts were not sufficient for AK Party’s second ballot for Istanbul’s election. CHP’s nominee for Mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, won the election. This way, the Ak Party has learned a hard lesson: the damaging effect of losing any fraction’s votes. 

After the 2019’s elections, according to some sources from the Party, several undisclosed meetings have been organized between the Saadet and AK Party until 2021 Ramadan’s second day when President Erdoğan had Iftar with Asiltürk. 

By the look of things, President Erdoğan desires to trust Traditional Islamic figures. This is to undermine the Nationalists’ power in governmental institutions and improve the image of the People’s Alliance that has been damaged due to the discrepancy in the economic issues between nationalist wings.

Future Scenarios

The Turkish Islamic Movement is at crossroads currently, with an inner conflict in its relation with the AK Party, manifested in two different trends: 

  • Temel Karamollaoğlu’s Trend: it believes that the AK Party and Erdoğan deeply harmed Turkey. It justifies supporting extremely secular parties to take Erdoğan down and prevent him from winning the 2023 elections. 
  • Oğuzhan Asiltürk Trend: it believes that President Erdoğan has convictions, opening Hagia Sophia Holy Grand Mosque and the movements against the West and America, that are acceptable in the National Vision Movement. It concludes that Erdoğan should be supported because of the complicated issues Turkey is currently dealing with nationally and globally. This was an unprecedented step between both Parties that the President approves of as well. 

According to the developments above, the Saadet Party’s future can be outlined in two scenarios: 

The first scenario: Oğuzhan Asiltürk will succeed in taking down Saadet Party’s current administration. Furthermore, changing the functions and the Party’s policies will change its position on the Turkish political map. However, if this scenario becomes true, we will witness the Saadet Party’s attaching itself to the People’s Alliance instead of the Nation Alliance.

This change is possible after the Party’s General Conference reconvening and the loss of Tamil Karamulla Oglu at the next Congress.

The second scenario: Temel Karamollaoğlu will become a general president in the coming congress, which will cause a massive division in the Saadet Party. This division can trigger the Party under Karamollaoğlu’s influence to evade traditional Islamic provisions and consequently diverting 1,5 percent of the votes in the election to another party that Oğuzhan Asiltürk’s allies can found. 

The unalterable factor in these two scenarios is that the problems between the two movements have reached a point of no return.

Anadolu Center For Near East Studies

Anadolu Center For Near East Studies

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