Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is marking 15 years in power, despite many obstacles, including a coup attempt and numerous terror attacks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Rize, Turkey, August 7, 2017.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Rize, Turkey, August 7, 2017. (Reuters)

Established in 2001, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is marking its 16th anniversary on Monday. It entered the political arena in 2002. 

The AK Party won its first election in 2002, but its founding leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was barred from politics after reading out a poem which was described as “provocative” by a Turkish court. In 2003, Erdogan's ban on participating in politics was lifted. He was chosen as an MP and became the party's leader

The AK Party is commonly known as a “party of firsts”, as it has notched up many political firsts in its history.

Here are five things to know about the AK Party:

1- Never lost elections

Former president Abdullah Gul led the party in Erdogan’s absence. 

Since then, the party has won 12 successive elections, including referendums, general and local elections. 

2- Governing system changed

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, announced that the country would be governed as parliamentary system in 1923. 

In 2007, the public voted directly to chose the president for the first time in the country’s political history.

The AK Party also lifted restrictions on wearing headscarves in public institutions, fulfilling one of the party's main campaign pledges.  

In a referendum held in April 2017, Turkey voted in favour of the AK Party's proposal to change its system from  a parliamentary to a presidential one. 

3- Peace overtures to the PKK

In the past three decades, Turkey has lived through a deadly armed campaign conducted by the PKK. The group is designated as a terror organisation by the EU, US, NATO as well as Ankara.

Thousands of people have been killed in clashes between Turkish security forces and PKK terrorists, who regularly attack southeastern parts of the country. 

In July 2009, the AK Party announced it was planning to resolve the conflict not only through military means but also via diplomacy.

In another first, the government lifted a ban on broadcasting in the Kurdish language with the introduction of a programme called Human Rights Package.

Even though broadcasting in Kurdish language was forbidden, government launched the first Kurdish language TV channel, TRT Kurdi.  

The government also allowed universities to establish institutions and research centres operating in languages other than Turkish.

However, clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK started again after the KCK, the group’s umbrella organisation, declared the process dead and carried out attacks on security forces and civilians. 

4- IMF debt

In the past Turkey has relied on International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans to meet monetary shortfalls. 

But in 2013, the country, under AK Party rule, paid off its debt to the IMF. 

Turkey is now among 11 countries that have now paid off their IMF debts. More than 70 countries in the world have yet to pay off their debts.

5- July 15, 2016

The AK Party has faced many obstacles during its 15 years in power, including terror attacks, regional crises, and wars in neighbouring counties.  

But on the night of July 15, 2016, military planes and helicopters, led by a rogue faction of the military, fired at people and the national assembly as part of a coup attempt to topple the democratically elected government. 

But thousands of people took to the streets after President Erdogan asked his supporters to resist the coup. 

In the failed putsch, 249 people were killed and more than 2,000 others wounded in the ensuing violence. 

Turkey blames Fetullah Gulen and his network, which Ankara calls the Fetullah Terror Organisation (FETO) for the failed coup. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennslyvania, US. 

Source: TRT World