Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Erbakan Moves Defeated in Saadet Congress

An internal rift inside the Saadet Party (SP) came to the forefront during the party's congress this past Sunday. Necmettin Erbakan, a veteran figure in Turkish Islamist politics and former prime minister of the Refah Party (RP), which was effectively removed from politics in Turkey's 1997 post-modern coup (also known as the Feb. 28 process), attempted to introduce a party list comprised of supporters and relatives. The list was rejected by another wing in the SP led by party leader Numan Kurtulmus.

The rift in the party, and its future, is significant in that the SP stood to gain from the Israeli rad on the Gaza flotilla. The IHH, the Turkish Islamist charity behind the Mavi Marmara, has strong connections to the SP, though it also seems to have worked with the AKP. The IHH thanked both parties before setting off on what turned out to be a dramatic collision course with Israeli security forces.

According to one analyst with whom I talked, the AKP might well have loaned support to the flotilla, or at least stood by and let the Mavi Marmara sail, in an attempt to outstage the SP, not thinking that Israel would respond in the way it did. Now that tensions are high, the AKP most surely has to pay mind to the SP and other factions on the Islamist right, which in the absence of strong action from the AKP and with the continued presence of the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the Turkish political agenda, could garner a significant (though still small) number of votes from AKP supporters. Though the SP is highly unlikely to reach the 10 percent threshold, every percentage point matters for the AKP now that it is under increased pressure from a re-juvenated CHP.

In this environment, signs of problems in the SP, including an old and apparently contentious Erbakan, are surely positives for the party. Here is a report of the congress from Today's Zaman:
Even though there was only one candidate, a quarrel erupted during the congress for the party's new Central Executive Board (MYK). Delegates who support Erbakan and those behind current leader Kurtulmuş fought over the party administration list. During the party congress, Kurtulmuş presented his "white list" for the party's MYK. However, Erbakan presented another list, titled the "green list," for the MYK.

Erbakan wanted to include his daughter Elif Erbakan, his son Fatih Erbakan, his son-in-law Mehmet Altınöz, Orhan Altınöz -- the older brother of his son-in-law -- and Ayşenur Tekdal, who is the daughter of Ahmet Tekdal, a die-hard supporter of Erbakan, and one of the party's elders. Kurtulmuş was listed as the leader on the green list.

Kurtulmuş and his followers refused to be listed or a part of the green list. The fight began at this point, and Erbakan asked his supporters to leave the congress. The crisis erupted when Kurtulmuş, who got angry over Erbakan including close friends and family members, announced that he withdrew from Erbakan’s “green list.” Kurtulmuş included only one person on his own list who was on Erbakan’s list, Recai Kutan. Erbakan’s supporters later began leaving the meeting, calling on everyone who loves Erbakan not to cast a vote. The voting session began in the wake of these disputes, and despite everything, Kurtulmuş was re-elected during the third round with 310 votes. Kurtulmuş was elected to the leadership during the 2008 congress with the support of 924 of 946 delegates.

Although Kurtulmuş emerged as victor and was re-elected, the fact that he was able to be re-elected only during the third round is a sign that a tough period has begun within the party since Kurtulmuş was able to get the support of only 310 out of 1,250 delegates. Only 634 delegates cast a vote since Erbakan’s supporters had left the congress. The resignation of many delegates is expected soon.

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