Could a Turkish Islamist Party Siphon Votes From Erdogan's AKP?

06/05/2015 08:24 am ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

As story after story emerges about the potential game changing 2015 election in Turkey, one party is virtually being ignored. But it has a good chance of playing the spoiler for the ambitions of the ruling AKP and its autocratic President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And it's a party once led by a former Erdogan ally.

When it comes to seeing if anyone can stop Erdogan, other stories focus on opposition parties like the CHP (social-democrats), the MHP (conservative, free market and nationalistic), and even the HDP (a hip Kurdish party that seeks to broaden their base in an appeal to younger voters).

In the 2015 Turkish parliamentarian election, few are talking about Saadet, the Felicity Party. But they have a chance to take back some Islamist votes that have gone to Erdogan and the AKP.

To understand why, go back to the chaotic 1990s in Turkey, where nearly a dozen political parties sought to make their mark in politics. Longtime politician Necmettin Erbakan became prime minister of Turkey in 1996. He opposed his country's pro-West bent, opposing Turkey's bid to join the European Union. He even questioned whether the country should remain in NATO. And he definitely supported a stronger role for Islam in government.


That last part got Erbakan in a lot of hot water with the military and other parties, which seek to maintain a secular regime as envisioned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the country. Erbakan was ousted from politics the following year, and banned from political activities for several years.

Despite this, Erbakan served as a mentor to a former candy salesman who became a rising star in Turkish politics: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Of course, as Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) dominated subsequent elections, Erbakan returned after his ban to form Saadet, touting a more pro-Islamic side than the AKP, which seems to play the Islam card more for politics. "I can wear a headscarf, thanks to the AKP," a poster with a young lady claims, as an example.


Erbakan died four years ago, but his party seems pretty spirited despite this. In the large city of Kayseri in Central Turkey, I watched a spirited march unfold, with loud chants and instruments. An AKP van drove over with its loudspeakers blaring, but was drowned out by the Saadet supporters, who moved past the market, drawing quite a crowd.


Back in Istanbul, many of the AKP flags and signs in the neighborhood the prior week were covered with a huge Saadet flag, while small Saadet stickers covered the mouths of Erdogan, Davutoglu (the Prime Minister) and appeared next to the men and women featured by the AKP in their posters.

Despite the party's dim view of U.S. foreign policy and its support for Israel, marchers were more than happy to chat with me about politics. They seemed angry about the AKP instead of America and speculated about their party's chances to clear the 10 percent threshold in the upcoming elections to get seats. One even suggested 15 percent to me. That may be a tall order, but the former ruling party allies could siphon away enough votes to prevent the AKP from creating the presidential system that Erdogan desires to give himself even more power.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at