Istanbul – Hamza Caglayan believes the Justice and Development party (AK party) backs his “cause” and defends the rights of the conservative people of Turkey. Caglayan, a 26-year-old student, echoes the view of many AK party voters.
Caglayan lives in Istanbul’s most populous district, Bagcilar, a conservative working-class neighbourhood that largely reflects the social voter base of the governing party.
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Bagcilar, with its 754,000 residents and 510,000 voters, is a massive constituency in the metropolis populated with almost 15 million Turks, which has become rapidly congested by Turks from other cities who are searching for better work opportunities and living standards. The AK party secured more than 50 percent of the votes in Bagcilar in the latest general elections in June.
“Bagcilar is like a lab reflecting parts of the society in all of Turkey. From the Black Sea region to central Anatolia and southeastern Turkey, so many identities from so many different parts of the country live here together,” Ismet Ozturk, the head of Bagcilar’s AK party branch, told Al Jazeera.
The June 7 polls were a big blow to the AK party. The elections ended its single-party government after the AK party ruled the country alone for 13 years. The party lost many seats to the country’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which achieved an unprecedented success for a pro-Kurdish party.
However, the results fell short of providing a coalition government, and a snap election was announced for November 1.
Since the June elections, much has happened in Turkey.Talks and a ceasefire between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the government ended, taking the country to one of the bloodiest times in its 30-year-old Kurdish conflict.
The clashes and government air strikes against the PKK have reportedly claimed the lives of dozens of security forces and hundreds of PKK fighters in just a few months.
Multiple bombings targeting political rallies, blamed on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, have also killed 139 people and wounded hundreds.
Meanwhile, state police have been cracking down on certain media networks and opposition rallies.
Moreover, the currency of the state, the Turkish lira, has depreciated, threatening the stability of the Turkish economy amid volatility in the spheres of politics and security.
With the current level of polarisation in Turkish society, Turks either love or hate the AK party. It is hard to find anybody standing in the grey area.
Backers say the party changed the decades-long military-dominated political landscape of Turkey, freed the socially conservative segments of society from the pressure of traditionally secularist state institutions, and turned a crisis-hit economy into a growing one.
However, particularly in recent years, the party has been internationally criticised for its crackdown on opposition protests and media, alleged corruption, social media bans, and legal amendments allegedly meant to accumulate power.
AK party voters in Bagcilar do not seem to give much credit to these criticisms.
“I don’t care about what human rights groups say. This party took Turkey to a different level,” Derya Cakmak, a 22-year-old university student, told Al Jazeera.
Yahya Caglayan, a 55-year-old pensioner, agreed and said the criticisms were not fair: “If there was [state] pressure on the media in this country, opposition media institutions would not be able to insult the president and the prime minister. But they can.”
According to Ozturk, voters there base their ideas on what they see as tangible action carried out by the government, and they act in line with their experiences. “They do not care about criticisms by rights groups or Western governments towards the AK party government. Citizens here mostly think that the West would criticise Turkey no matter what,” he told Al Jazeera.
The AK party has been led by Ahmet Davutoglu, an academic and the former foreign minister, after the party’s former leader and founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the country’s president in 2014.
In a country where the office of the president is constitutionally neutral, Erdogan has been an unconventional president, making political remarks in recent public appearances, often criticising the opposition parties.
Turkey needs a strong single-party government. Short-lived coalition governments caused this country so much harm for decades. The AK party changed this.
Pundits say that he also still wields a lot of power over the party, though he is not officially affiliated with it after taking the presidential post.
AK party supporters who talked to Al Jazeera say they were not concerned about his remarks on the country’s politics and his alleged influence over the party.
“Erdogan should have influence on the government. Davutoglu is a good and optimistic person. However, Erdogan’s sharp tone should always be present,” Hamza Caglayan said.
According to 52-year-old pensioner Faruk Ermenek, Erdogan is not an impartial president, but he works hard for his country: “Therefore, it does not bother me that he takes the side of the governing party in politics,” he told Al Jazeera.
The AK party largely leads the pre-election surveys, but still remains short of enough seats to lead the country alone in those polls.
Support for the AK party stands at 41.3 percent, with a rise from the 40.9 it had in June’s vote, followed by the centre-left main opposition Republican People’s Party with 27 percent, Nationalist Action Party with 15.6 percent, and the HDP with 12.5 percent, according to a survey by Gezici, an Istanbul-based research institution.
In its election campaigns, the AK party stresses the need for a stable single-party government in Turkey for the country not to lose its economic gains.
“Turkey needs a strong single-party government. Short-lived coalition governments caused this country so much harm for decades. The AK party changed this,” Yahya Caglayan said.
According to Ozturk, following the June 7 polls, voters have realised how stability is important for Turkey.
“Although polls still show that there will be four parties in the parliament, I think this fact will be visible in the results,” Ozturk told Al Jazeera.
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