The results of the election in Turkey on 1 November took analysts by surprise: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) received nearly half the votes, an increase of 9 per cent on its performance five months ago, and close to its best ever showing, in June 2011. When the party came to power in November 2002, after a long period of instability and economic crisis, it was with only a third of the popular vote. But it quickly captured a good part of the secular electorate when it went along with political reforms required by the EU in order to start membership negotiations. Centre-right business circles were attracted to IMF-inspired institutional reforms, and the AKP won the support of the poor with its health and welfare policies. By the end of the decade, the party’s mastery of the mechanisms of governance was complete. Even after jettisoning the liberals, it won the elections in 2011 with 50 per cent of the vote.
Now that the Gezi Park occupation is over, everyone wants to know who won. At first Erdoğan looked ready to compromise: after discussions with some of the participants, he said he would honour a court decision suspending the government’s plan to demolish the park, and added that, if his project to build a replica of the Ottoman barracks were cleared by the judiciary, he would take the decision to the public. At this point the protesters in the park had a brief opportunity to declare victory. But as in the various Occupy movements last year there was no central command; there were more than a hundred different groups camped in the park, and it would have been impossible to reach any consensus short of a very long forum. In any case, Erdoğan did not even wait until daybreak.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spent yesterday talking. On Saturday, the authorities relented and withdrew the police from Taksim Square, when it became clear that serious clashes would be unavoidable. Crowds were approaching from four different directions and the police were trying to stop them before they reached the square, but they kept coming; at around 4 p.m. news came that the police were pulling back. Many thought that this might be tactical. In the end, however, the demonstrators had Taksim to themselves. On Sunday morning, under a drizzle, they peacefully cleaned up the square while Erdoğan made the rounds, denouncing the extremists, justifying his actions and defiantly repeating his commitment to overhaul the social and physical space of the meydan.