28th Nov 2013 – Series of Initiatives by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Provoke Backlash Ahead of 2014 Elections. Intensifying rivalries between Turkey’s prime minister and segments of his Islamist-rooted ruling party are threatening to fray the largely conservative coalition that has dominated the nation’s politics for more than a decade, just as it prepares for elections next year. Over the past month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched initiatives that prompted a backlash from the Islamists, conservatives, nationalists and liberals who have powered his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, since it swept to power in a 2002 landslide.
Such strife before the March local elections—a litmus test of Mr. Erdogan’s popularity ahead of his expected bid to become Turkey’s first directly elected president next August—is unusual for the AKP alliance. Its discipline helped dislodge Turkey’s military-backed, secularist establishment, which had ruled the country since it was established in 1923.
The rifts have emboldened anti-AKP segments of society. Antigovernment demonstrations in the summer that drew millions marked the most significant public challenge yet to Mr. Erdogan. But they have yet to boost the divided opposition or dent the government’s popularity. “Explicit criticism of Erdogan from inside the party has increased and surfaced in public for the first time in 11 years, which may have an impact on his performance in the presidential election,” said Naz Masraff, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group, a political and economic risk consultancy. “But it doesn’t improve the prospects for opposition parties or undermine the power of AKP in the March local elections.”
Mr. Erdogan’s most contentious recent move was a campaign launched two weeks ago to shut down the nation’s private college-preparatory schools. More than a quarter of these schools are associated with the loosely knit, world-wide religious movement known as Cemaat, or the congregation, and called Hizmet, or service, by its followers.
It is led by Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive, influential Muslim cleric from Turkey who lives in Pennsylvania.
The moderate Islamic movement is estimated to have at least a million followers including AKP lawmakers, prosecutors and police in Turkey. They have helped underpin the AKP’s nearly 12 years in power.
Last year, Mr. Erdogan warned about the power of Turkey’s judiciary, saying it had started to resemble “a state within the state.” The remark was also seen as a suggestion that the Gulen congregation wields vast influence over the judiciary. The prime minister’s relations with the group cooled visibly since February 2012, when prosecutors sought to question a top confidant—spy chief Hakan Fidan. Mr. Erdogan moved swiftly to pass legislation making key bureaucrats off-limits to the judiciary.