The Political Economy of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party

Ziya Onis, Koc University

Abstract:The paper embodies three broad objectives. The first objective is to uncover the economic foundations of the JDP’s dramatic electoral success in November 2002. The following elements deserve emphasis in this context. (a) The party constitutes a cross-class alliance incorporating into its orbit both winners and losers from the neo-liberalization process. Business support, notably from small and medium-sized business units falling under the umbrella of the nation-wide business association, MUSIAD, constitutes a crucial element of the JDP’s electoral support. Yet, business support constitutes only one element of the party’s electoral success. (b) The superior performance of JDP’S predecessors, the Welfare and the Virtue Parties, at the level of municipal governments is another element of key importance. (c) The failures of conventional parties of either the center-right or the center-left in achieving sustained and equitable economic growth, avoiding costly financial crises and tackling the problem of pervasive corruption have also paved the way for the party’s unprecedented electoral success in the recent era. The second broad objective is to provide a critical assessment of the JDP government’s performance on the economic front, with the qualification that a proper assessment would require a longer time frame. Focusing on the party’s relations with the IMF, an attempt will made to evaluate the achievements and limitations of the JDP government to date with respect to the implementation of the economic program in the realm of fiscal adjustment and longer-term economic reforms. Looking towards the future, the paper will also consider some of the problems that the JDP government faces in establishing a sustained, equitable and crisis-free trajectory of economic growth in Turkey in the next few years. The third broad objective is to examine the repercussions of the foreign policy stance of the JDP notably with respect to Turkey-EU and Turkey-US relations in the economic sphere, attempting the highlight the critical linkages between the between the political and the economic spheres in the process

Is the Transition from a Vicious to a Virtuous Cycle Sustainable? Possible Challenges to the Electoral Dominance of the JDP in the Medium Term

The picture presented so far suggests that Turkey in recent years has managed to overcome the instability and the impasse of the 1990s and has entered into a process of virtuous cycle whereby a series of economic, political and foreign policy initiatives have been contributing to an unprecedented pace of democratization and a more pronounced economic recovery than many analysts had predicted in the aftermath of the 2001 crisis. Although the JDP itself did not initiate this process, it certainly helped to accelerate it by a considerable margin after November 2002. Clearly, if the recovery process continues uninterrupted and Turkey is able to obtain a date for the start of accession negotiations from the EU in December, the JDP will find itself even in a much stronger position and then it would be highly unlikely that its electoral dominance will be challenged by the time of the next general election in 2007.

Concluding Observations
Economics and politics are interlinked in a peculiar way in the age of financial globalization. In this context, the JDP, has been able to come to terms with globalization more than any other political party in the Turkish context. Its success so far has been based on its ability to move beyond class-based politics and to forge a broad cross-class coalition that incorporates both the winners and losers of neo-liberal globalization. Through commitment to the IMF program mixed with a certain dose of pragmatism and its pro-active approach to Turkey’s relations with the EU, the JDP, in office, has contributed to Turkey’s economic recovery and an intense phase of democratization reforms that was already under way before the party had actually assumed power. In spite of its Islamist roots, the party has skillfully moved towards the center of Turkish politics and has by and large successfully evaded the kinds of conflicts that could have been emerged through open clashes with the state elites and the secular segments of the Turkish society. In retrospect, the JDP has capitalized on the deficiencies of both the center right and the center left parties in the Turkish setting. Clearly, the party itself is a hybrid formation. From a certain perspective, in line with what the party leadership tries to describe itself, with its emphasis on religion and conservative values, it constitutes a typical center right party close to the Christian Democratic tradition in Europe. Yet, in certain respects the “ Muslim Democrats” or “ conservative Democrats”, with their cosmopolitanism, commitment to multi-culturalism and emphasis on social justice, differ quite sharply from their Christian Democratic counterparts and overlap with social democratic parties third way in Europe.

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