Some Fact-Checking about Fethullah Gulen: 2) Does Gulen Support AKP?

One of the most popular questions I have been lately posed is about Fethullah Gulen's alleged support toward AKP, the current government in Turkey. Does Gulen really support AKP and tell everyone around him to support this party? Let us find out.

First of all, those who claim that Gulen supports AKP were also voicing similar claims about Turgut Ozal's and Bulent Ecevit's parties in the past. In the 80s Gulen was accused of supporting Ozal's party (ANAP) and in the 90s he was also accused of backing up Ecevit's party (DSP). These two parties came to power in 80s and 90s respectively and both parties had different political ideology. ANAP was a liberal-conservative party, whereas DSP was defending leftist and nationalist ideas. Their worldview was different. Looks like whatever party comes to power, some people assume that those parties owe their electoral success to Gulen.

I sense two insidious motives behind such accusations:

1) When these parties are claimed to have the support of Fethullah Gulen, it is implied that they have come to power thanks to Gulen's support rather than the millions of votes coming from the people in the elections. 

2) Through such claim, some ill-intentioned people try to convince the public that Gulen has violated his own policy of non-partisanship. However, Gulen always says that "he has the same close distance to each and every party in Turkish political life."  

There is no even single occasion that Gulen has ever made a public call to support a certain political party. When you have millions of followers, you don't just tell a couple of your confidants to support such and such party. You have to make a public announcement in order to rally such a support. I personally know a number of people in the Movement that cast their votes to various parties other than AKP. And those people hate AKP. Gulen must be aware of this situation; therefore, he never encourages or manipulates anyone to cast his/her vote for the government. 

According to Gulen, one's own vote is his/her conscientious responsibility. It is not possible to rule over the conscience of the people, because Islam does not even accept the faith that comes as a result of others' coercion or pressure. So, it can be claimed that neither Gulen nor the Movement has ever engaged in a political propaganda to manipulate people. 

But some things should be considered here. First of all, in the last decade, in Turkish political life, there are only three mainstream parties represented in the parliament. AKP (liberal-conservative), CHP (left-nationalist/statist) and MHP (right-nationalist). Just like here in America, there is not much choice for the Turkish voters. Actually, almost 20 parties participate in the election, but due to the national 10% threshold, only the parties who can surpass this threshold are represented at the Parliament. At this juncture, some voters make up their mind on the basis of democratic principles: the party that supports democracy most is seen as the ideal one by the public. For example, 2007 was the year presidential race was supposed to take place and the Parliament was going to elect the president, a norm that has been practiced since the foundation of the Republic. Abdullah Gul was AKP's candidate. After the first two round of the elections, the Constitutional Court suddenly took a decision saying that the president had to be elected by 367 votes (two-third of the Parliament), which was not the case in previous presidential races. According to Article 96 of the Turkish Constitution, unless otherwise stated in the Constitution, the Parliament could convene with at least, one-third of the total number of members (184 out of 550) and take decisions by an absolute majority of those present; however, the quorum for decisions can never be less than a quarter plus one of the total number of members. The condition for 367 was not sought in the previous elections and the Constitutional Court's decision was seen a kind of "judicial coup". 

On the other hand, the military, on the midnight of April 27, issued an online declaration stating that the soon-to-be-president should be a person who would act on the basis of secular principles of Turkish Republic. By most political scientists and columnists, military's midnight declaration was called "e-coup". These two moves on the side of the judiciary and military were seen as attempts towards the deterioration of democracy and democratic people eventually reacted to these moves by casting their votes to AKP in the subsequent election. The political observers admitted that those moves helped AKP garner more votes by the public.

There has been only one incident where Gulen took sides and it was the Constitutional Referendum back in 2010. He encouraged people to say "YES" to the partial amendments in the Turkish Constitution. But, this was a YES or NO referendum, rather than a general election, in which the changes were aimed at bringing the constitution into compliance with European Union standards. Almost 58% of the voters said YES to the referendum, after which Barack Obama welcomed the results and called the Prime Minister Erdogan to congratulate him. 

Let me conclude here with Gulen's own words that he uttered in his recent conversations:

"This upcoming referendum is a crucial step for the democracy. There are important changes within the package for the future of our nation. Therefore, this (constitutional amendment) package should be supported." (www.herkul.org/August 2, 2010/"Kuvvetin Cilginligi ve Referandum Firsati")

"We still maintain the same distance to all political parties. I never tell anyone "Go and be a member of such and such party, appear in their conventions and be their clapper in their meetings". Maintaining a certain distance should not necessarily mean that nobody should never cast a vote to any of the political parties. Our nation supports those who display good political performance and do good things for the country. The support is toward the actions, rather than the personalities or the parties." (www.herkul.org/August 2, 2010/"Kuvvetin Cilginligi ve Referandum Firsati")

"The fact that I supported the referendum package is about supporting the action itself rather than the actors." (www.herkul.org/October 1, 2010/"Referandum Sonrasi ve Emniyette Kadrolasma")

DISCLAIMER: These answers are just my personal opinion and they do not reflect the opinion of Fethullah Gulen or Gulen Movement. I am not the spokesperson of anyone, but a scholar studying Gulen Movement for several years.