Wake-Up Call for Turkey’s AKP

Five days of protests in Turkey highlight the government’s horrific crisis mismanagement and serves as a wake-up call for the ruling party that was caught off guard, basking in its solidification of power and its progress towards becoming a major energy hub.

The mass protests, which have now been joined by the 240,000-strong trade unions, were unexpected—largely because they weren’t planned in the first place.

What started with a group of concerned citizens on Friday took issue with plans to raze the Gezi Park—the last patch of green in Istanbul—to make way for an Ottoman-style military barracks and a shopping mall, it very quickly metamorphosed into broad anti-government protests and clashes overnight,spreading to Ankara, Izmir and the majority of Turkey’s provinces.

For that metamorphoses, the government has only itself to blame. It responded to the Gezi Park sit-in with tear gas and water cannons, unleashing public anger that has been tethered only by the country’s economic gains.

When two protesters were killed and hundreds of others were wounded, they became something very different than a group of citizens seeking an audience with city officials over the Taksim Square greenery.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has mismanaged the crisis, misjudged his authority and made the fatal of mistake of underestimating the barely contained public resentment towards the AKP. Since the over-the-top police response, Erdogan has continued to mismanage things, adding fuel to the fires with arrogant comments.

In the meantime, all manner of groups are coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of this window of opportunity to hijack the protests for political purposes.

This may actually be the AKP’s saving grace because while half of the Turkish public resents the AKP, it also resents the opposition and those groups who would seek to foment violence and create instability.

The AKP has managed to solidify power to an enormous extent, but it is increasingly viewed as authoritarian, and since its 2010 confiscation of a major media group, Sabah, to a colleague of Erdogan’s the resentment has been building and ready to explode at the slightest provocation.

It is also not lost on anyone that the contract to develop the mall inside the planned Ottoman-style barracks in Gezi Park is held by Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is also CEO of Calik Holdings AS, whose Calik Energy department is a key player on the Turkish oil and gas scene.

This is bad timing for the AKP, which is presently trying to push through some serious oil and gas legislation that would undermine the country’s state-run oil and gas company, TPAO, and likely see it privatized in a legislative package designed to lure in more foreign investment.

As of today, 4. June, a relative calm has returned to Istanbul, but demonstrations continue. For now, despite the gross mismanagement of the crisis, this is not likely to be the death knell for the AKP and what is effectively one-party rule in Turkey, but its prized oil and gas legislation may now come under more public scrutiny than it had anticipated just a week ago.

Erdogan will likely heed the lesson here sooner rather than later, and as he has in the past, find an opportunity here somewhere to use this to the AKP’s advantage. But the message here is that while the AKP will forge ahead with its plans, the future will have to see a bit more input from the public.

This piece is cross-posted from Oil Price.com with permission.