So how on earth is this party, and this man, still in power?
There are six key points, I think, and one thing to remember about the AKP: They are not a political party that consists of backwood yokels - instead, they are one of the most efficient, up-to-date, and skilful political machines out there. Here are the six things that have made them strong.
1. They know, understand, and appeal to their electoral base.The AKP, and its predecessor Refah, spent a lot of time connecting with the towns and villages of Anatolia, essentially listening to their needs, their fears and worries, and promising that they would be addressed. Anatolia is far more conservative and pious that the big cities, but it is also the workforce that power places like Istanbul and Izmir. These incomers (and migration to Istanbul alone is estimated at least 1,000 people a week) bring their politics with them, obviously - it makes sense to catch the poor because their votes translate directly into power. This is something that other parties have missed, because....
2.The Anatolian electoral hinterland that comprises this base has been ignored by mainstream politicians for decades.During my time in Turkey, it was obvious that Anatolia, for the politicians, might as well have been Outer Mongolia. MPs were big on promises, but short on outcomes, and the lot of the average villager never improved. Despite the modernisation of the cities and tourist regions, you don't need to go far into the hinterland to realise that much of the country is still developing. The mass of voters were regarded as little better than obedient serfs, who would vote for whomever they were told to vote for. This has come to bite the political parties firmly on the backside, and none of them really seem to know what to do. Why?.....
3.The lack of a credible alternative.The opposition is hopelessly divided and doesn't really fill one with confidence: instead, it's the same tired faces with their own history of scandals, graft and corruption. They also seem to fall back on an assumption that, were they ever to regain power, they would be able to do everything back in the old way. They have not grasped the reality that the AKP have changed the game entirely. They have failed to adapt, have presented no credible challenge, and are at least partially culpable for the domination of the political scene that Erdogan enjoys.
4.The state's system of checks and measures, e.g. the media, an independent judiciary etc, have been subsumed and compromised by the AKP.Because of the weakened opposition, Erdogan and the AKP have been able to sack members of the judiciary with impunity, block journalists from reporting, lock writers up and generally create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that pervades all those who find themselves on the purlieus of the administration. A state where all parts of the system cannot work is a sick state and one that is doomed to fail sooner or later. The problem is that it will take decades for Turkey to rebuild, especially in terms of the trust needed.
5.Erdogan controls the traditional media. His electorate don't use online media.Despite the fact that social media is widely used in Turkey, nevertheless the vast majority have no truck with online sources of information. They rely on TV, newspapers and radio, all of which, because of the way they have been filleted by the AKP, are supine in their news coverage and meek about reporting anything that may offend their political masters. Again, this is nothing new: during the 90's, TV channels were regularly closed down as a punishment for revealing something the political elite didn't like. The difference this time is that the media is largely complicit with the ruling party, rather than challenging and questioning. The electoral base of the AKP, being people who are generally speaking from backgrounds with less access to education, are less likely to question what their leaders are doing. And why should they? After all...
6.The AKP's electoral base feel they have benefitted economically and socially over the years of AKP rule.Ultimately, it all comes down to the economy. From the perspective of the average AKP voter, they feel wealthier -there are more things in the shops, there is a boom in new building and infrastructure, there is seemingly greater access to jobs and money - and while that feelgood feeling persists, there is little likelihood that they are going to vote for anyone else. This, despite the fact that on average, the typical person is apparently worse off - however, when it comes to the very poorest, their lots have been made somewhat better. Not only that, these voters feel that they are being listened to, something that other politicians have failed to do again and again.
Yes, the economy is the key: the problem is that the Turkish economy is increasingly resembling an enormous Ponzi scheme, and, like the Spanish and Irish economies, is due to crash at some stage. It is simply unsustainable as it is, especially in light of the information being leaked about the kickbacks and bribery that seem to be the norm at the heart of the administration.
So, what will happen next? I fear that Erdogan will now feel he has carte blanche to go hunting for his enemies, and to increasingly take power into his hands alone. He doesn't care for democracy, just power. After all, he once said, 'Democracy is like a bus: Useful to take you where you want to go, but you can get off at your stop and make your way after that'. And that doesn't bode well for Turkey.