Hope as a Mass Governance Tool: The Early Period of the AKP and the Adoption of the Presidential Government System


This study primarily investigates the definitions of the concept of hope addressed by various thinkers and examines the relationship between hope and people’s future. Then, it argues that hope is a political tool since politics is a phenomenon that can be encountered in every aspect of human life – even when making plans for our futures. Therefore, the rulers aim to increase their sovereignty. Considering the government-citizen relationship, governments wish to manage the hopes of the people to achieve this goal. If they can provide logical and solid explanations, the people are more likely to follow their leader. One of these leaders is the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This study deals with Erdogan’s early political years, who was a beacon of hope in the 2002 Turkish general elections, and then the 2017 referendum, which led to constitutional changes. The reason for taking these two elections is primarily to reveal how the Justice And Development Party (AKP) has given hope to people, and to examine the difference between Erdoğan’s promising statements in 2002 and 2017.

Keywords: Hope, persuasion, mass governance, loyalty, presidential system.


Bu çalışma, öncelikle umut kavramının farklı düşünürler tarafından yapılan tanımlamalarını araştırır, umudun insan geleceği ile olan ilişkisini irdeler. Ardından umudun politik bir araç olduğunu, zira siyasetin insan yaşamının her alanında -gelecekleri ile ilgili tasarımlar yaparken de- karşılaşılabilen bir olgu olduğunu savunur. Dolayısıyla yönetenler güç alanlarını, yani egemenliklerini arttırabilmeyi amaçlarlar. Hükümet-vatandaş ilişkisi göz önünde bulundurulduğunda hükümetler bu gayeye ulaşmak için halkın umutlarını kontrol altına almayı arzularlar. Eğer onlara mantıklı ve dayanaklı açıklamalar yapabilirlerse halk liderini takip edecektir. Bu liderlerden birisi ise Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nin Cumhurbaşkanı Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’dır. Bu çalışma halka bir umut ışığı olan Erdoğan’ın erken siyaset yıllarını, yani 2002 Türkiye genel seçimlerini; ardından anayasa değişikliğine yol açan 2017 referandumunu konu alır. Bu iki oylamanın alınmasının nedeni öncelikle AKP’nin insanlara nasıl umut kaynağı olduğunu ortaya koymak, Erdoğan’ın 2002’deki umut vaat eden söylemleri ile 2017’deki söylemleri arasındaki farkı irdelemektir.

Anahtar Kelimeler: Umut, inandırma, kitle yönetimi, sadakat, başkanlık sistemi.


“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. As people project their future, they envisage better standards of living than their prevailing situation. As per the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu “. . . these are hopes for good lives – or rather, it explains their relational character: hopes for better lives than existing ones.” (Jansen, 2021 p.3) To ameliorate the present, people make short, medium, and long-term plans. These schemes can be regarded as sort of fictional alternative realities. By the same token, the governments to which people are legally attached desire to preserve their sovereignty and maintain their strength in the political arena by gaining the consent of the people in democratic systems -where the management of hope becomes the first. Political parties remain to make pledges, vows, and promises to the people, not only within the scope of election propaganda but also during their terms. The focal objective is to uphold the loyalty of the people and utilize their mobilization. Maria Miceli and Cristiano Castelfranchi in “The Power of Wish and Possibility” (2010) dealt with the concept of hope through human psychology. Dissimilarly, this research paper entails the issue of hope from a different outlook within the scope of political science. Through the theme of hope, it will examine promises made by the AKP government in Turkey. While processing such an abstract concept as hope, it will embody the governmental discourses by presenting them to the reader and will exemplify Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declarations for the future of the nation. In this respect, this work will be of new value in terms of analyzing the relationship between hope and political discourse in the field of political science.

1. Outlooks of Hope

“The concept of hope can be described as a person’s emotional belief in the possibility of positive outcomes related to events and situations in the life of the community” (Gülten, 2014). Regarding the description of this controversial concept, many philosophers brought forward various views. For instance, “From Plato to René Descartes, many philosophers have argued that hope is weaker than expectation and confidence since it requires belief merely in the possibility of an event, not evidence that it is likely to occur” (Stahl, 2018). Baruch Spinoza, on the other hand, argued that if we shape our lives with the power of logic and reason, there will be no need for hope (ibid). Therefore, in other words, compared to hollow hopes, rational expectations are more likely to be gone after. In addition to containing an emotional feeling, the governments per se do the management of hope, which needs a logical basement for conviction. Belief management generates an alternative reality setting for the mass and their process of believing in alternative realities transpire through governments. Governments handle the hopes of the masses to induce them a positive event will happen in the near or far future. An individual’s wish for a better future evolves into the management of his hope in the government-citizen relationship. This management is a form that the government uses to preserve its power, rather than to support a future benefit to the citizens. In other words, an environment of hope in accordance with reason and logic is created for the subjects and thus people’s mobilization is ensured. “The primary function of a leader is to keep hope alive” said John W. Gardner, who served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. According to him, leadership is “. . . the process of persuading a group of individuals (or team) to pursue by a leader” (Gardner, 1990, p.1) Therefore, if the public can be made to believe in his promises, it will facilitate the process of getting the people to support him.

2. Methodology

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of contemporary politics’ ultimate representatives of the aforementioned description above. Following an intervening policy in people’s private lives and preferences, Erdoğan is a politician who has been successfully using the politics of hope for 19 years. Consolidating potential voters, keeping the party base loyal, and influencing floating voters are three skills Erdoğan has been able to execute. Within the theme of management of hope, this research article aims to present his and Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) promises in the 2002 General Elections -their first general election, and the discourses within the scope of the 2017 Turkish Constitutional Referendum which abolishes the democratic system. Plus, it will investigate the statements of Erdoğan about his alternative reality, which he calls the “2023 Vision” that takes place in a different realm, as well as the public’s reaction. The purpose of subjecting only two election times is to provide an obsolete comparison, showing the differences between the very first years and the latest governance understanding of the AKP. Thereby, this research paper will present the AKP’s discourse forms in a linear narrative. The issues that this research paper will acknowledge are as follows:

a) What was the background of the AKP’s entrance into the political arena as a “hope”?

b) How can hope be interpreted throughout the promises of the AKP government?

c) How could Erdoğan manage people’s trust in himself?

3. Unlighted Turbulence 

To grasp the early years of Erdoğan, it is essential to examine the background of the Turkish political and economic atmosphere. As a result of the 1999 Marmara Earthquake, the whole nation experienced a drastic fiscal collapse. As reported by TÜSİAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association) the cost of the earthquake was 17 billion dollars, between 15 to 19 billion dollars according to the State Planning Organization, and 12 to 17 billion dollars according to the World Bank. (Independent Türkçe, 2019). The earthquake’s location carries great importance regarding the causes. Marmara is a region where Turkish industry was being operated, and therefore the earthquake caused a great wound in the national economy. The destruction of production factories and processing facilities meant not only an especially acute monetary loss but also severe damage to the psychology of society. Thousands of people, who have witnessed their houses and workplaces being plundered after the earthquake, have fallen into desperation about their future. After such a great loss, the tension between PM Bülent Ecevit and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer at the National Security Council meeting in February 2001 caused a great panic in markets and it eventually led to hyperinflation. The foreign capital began to withdraw their investments across the country and it generated a substantial loss for the Turkish Lira. (1 Dollar became equal to 1,200,000 TL) The IMF program being implemented also carried high importance. “Within the scope of the program, free interest and fixed exchange rate regimes were applied. While the exchange rate was kept constant at the exchange rate announced by the Central Bank for each day, interest rates were determined by the market” (BBC News Türkçe, 2018). However, things went exactly the opposite of what was foreseen, interest rates rapidly rose as a result of the liquidity crisis, and private banks declared bankruptcy. (Turkish Commercial Bank, Sümerbank, Turkey Reconstruction Bank, Etibank, etc.) The severe fall in purchasing power also exacerbated the political conflicts. PM Ecevit appointed Kemal Derviş as the Minister of Economic Affairs, who was working at the World Bank as the Division Chief for Industrial and Trade Strategy. Derviş, who had reliable connections with the IMF, enacted the laws in the fields of trade and exchange rate regulations. He could calm the storm pro-term, yet, as he resigned in a couple of months, similar economic problems resurfaced. The whole nation experienced severe economic troubles. After all, there was no government that the empty pot could not topple.

4. A Lamp Beaming in the Darkness

The 2001 Economic Crisis opened new doors that would transform not only the financial crisis path but also the political destiny of the country. Being a party that was founded during the financial difficulties enabled the AKP to formulate its political discourse on the theme of hope. In the 2002 election campaign, especially in outdoor advertisements, the message is delivered that voters will make Turkey much brighter with the slogan “Turn the lights on” (Göksu, 2019, p.597). A highly cunning bond has been made between the message to be given here and their party logo. Since the party logo is a light bulb, it is aimed to influence the voting habits of the people with the implication of “If you vote for us, your future will be bright”. The light bulb, which is technically a device that brightens the darkness, can be interpreted in political language as a “Beacon of Hope” aimed at brightening the hope of a nation during an economic and mental depression.  In their 2002 Election Manifesto, the AKP described themselves with the following words: “Our party, under the leadership of honest, brave, young, dynamic, knowledgeable and clean staff, aims to re-establish a future full of hope and confidence with a comprehensive program to reunite politics with the nation” (AKP Election Declaration, 2002, p.2). In various parts of the declaration, the reasons for the desperation of the people were rationally explained. As stated earlier in the “Outlooks of Hope” section, rather than chasing vain dreams, people tend to believe statements that can be reasonably explained and logically accepted. Therefore, by raising people’s hope, the AKP has accelerated the flow of votes in the upcoming election by describing such problems as an unfair distribution of income, poverty, over-taxation, unemployment, as well as the decrease in belief in the government caused by the corruption of public officials. As for the general elections, giving promises to the people was directly dependent on the effective use of mass media. However, in the early 2000s, physical meetings and rallies were preferred due to limited advertising opportunities in magazines, newspapers, and television. Therefore, Erdoğan began his meetings across the country. The content of his speeches was strategic; in the first part of his speech, he mostly talked about the past government’s faults, and economic and social injustices, secondly, his resolutions for problems, and eventually, he conveyed that the only hope is his party. Regarding these, the following words uttered by Erdoğan in the Kırşehir rally: “Kırşehir could be a wonderful attraction center in health tourism. Thermal spas could be points of attraction for tourism. Have they [other parties] told you this until today? Inshallah we will succeed it” (Erdoğan, 2002). It becomes clear that Erdoğan has tried to persuade people that they were not treated as they deserve for a better future. This political discourse has demolished people’s credit in previous governments and raised their hopes for the AKP, which controls their hopes by announcing “It could have been better, yet, we will do it”. After Erdoğan’s asseveration, the people applauded him and chanted the slogan “We are going where Erdoğan is going.” Even if it cannot be considered as a physical movement, they have openly declared their loyalty to Erdoğan who provided an alternative reality. After Erdoğan delivered his speech about the solution proposals in the field of health and education, the people were nearly mesmerized and chorused: “Constant light, even much lighter”. The metaphor of light is associated with the light bulb in the party logo, and therefore Erdoğan can symbolically be conceived as a promising leader who lights the fire. On the very night of the election, Erdoğan uttered these on his balcony on November 4, 2002: “As of November 4, the hope to solve our citizens’ problems, especially those who are in need of jobs and food, will begin to flourish in Turkey” (Erdoğan, 2002). Utilizing the public’s complaints about social injustices, corruption, and poverty as propaganda subjects, Erdoğan could affect people’s future hopes by convincing them. Preeminently, he narrated the problems and this constructed an empathetic atmosphere. Then, stated that these problems could not be resolved by previous governments. It reinforced people’s antipathy toward previous politicians. Ultimately, he claimed his party to succeed in it. This ensured voters consolidated in his party to build a hopeful future.

5. Erdoğan the Freedom Fighter

Erdoğan was sentenced to prison for “inciting the people to hatred and enmity on the basis of class, race, religion, sect or region” for reciting an ultra-Islamic poem violating the secularism of the state at a rally in 1997 while he was the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor. It caused him to be “banned from politics” by the Supreme Court. However, his ban generated great confusion in the political composition. He could join the 2002 elections as his party’s chairman; however, he could become neither a deputy nor the PM. It was a complete stalemate. The concept of hope can per se be revealed hither since he got stuck in the labyrinth of dead-ends. He held press conferences and rallies as the party leader despite being banned from politics. The main motive of Erdoğan’s speeches was to persuade people that he was judged unfairly and that since he is a Muslim he shouldn’t take counter-actions to Islam. His speeches contained the message of “Do not despair”. After the 2002 elections, with the support of the main opposition party, the Republican People Party (CHP), his political ban was lifted by the Supreme Court. It qualified him to become the prime minister in 2003. Erdoğan fought for his political freedom through three stages; 1) Convinced people that the verdict was unfair 2) He got into the role of victim and thus received the emotional support of the people 3) He accommodated emotional support into the sign of hope for the future through his statements. For instance: 

“There will never be such sufferings under our rule. Because banks will not be siphoned off, there will be no corruption! We are coming to power to fight corruption, poverty, and prohibitions, namely the “3Y” (The capital letters of Yolsuzluk, Yoksulluk, Yasaklar). In addition, with the measures we will take, we will make the economy productive and increase exports, and by Allah’s leave, we will solve the foreign currency problem. Turkey will be a peaceful and prosperous country. We will even surpass the level of prosperity in developed countries…” (Dündar, 2021)

In this statement, Erdoğan claimed that people were highly unsatisfied with their current situation and that the only solution is the AKP. This propaganda was to earn the trust of people who were fed up with the corruption scandals of previous governments. However, the bottom of the iceberg was different from the surface. Erdoğan’s foremost aim was to mobilize the religious target crowd, who was governed by a secularist constitution, yet, internally, desired to be governed by sharia law. Arguing that state affairs and religion cannot be carried out separately, Erdoğan’s words: “You cannot be both a Muslim and a secular. You will either be a Muslim or a secularist”, which is a harbinger that he will lift the headscarf ban in public areas. According to the “Public Dress Ordinance,” women were forbidden to wear a headscarf in public places. However, “With the AK Party coming to power in the 2002 elections, there was no sudden change in the headscarf ban. The headscarf was still a sensitive debate” (Al Jazeera Türk, 2013). For Erdoğan, who claimed that his party had come to lift the prohibitions, this ban was a perfect fit for managing people’s hopes and mobilization. Against the ban, Erdoğan initially pursued a moderate policy: “No matter what faith group they belong to, we see the right of freedom to different faith groups to maintain their belief collectively as an enrichment” (Hürriyet, 2004). Although Erdoğan was a successful politician in performing cyclical reactions to issues, his Muslim character was so outstanding that he was imprisoned. For the first time, in 2008, he expressed his determination in removing the ban: “I suppose that overcoming this ordinance will also be contributory in succeeding a problem, especially in terms of freedom of education… Is it a crime to wear a headscarf? Even as a political symbol? Can you impose a ban on figures, and symbols?” (CNN Türk, 2008). These remarks were a sort of insurance that fulfilled the hopes of the Muslim majority in Turkey. Since the official steps taken to lift the ban, which had been a matter of debate for many years, would have enabled the people to follow their new leader. Although Erdoğan expressed his opinion at the commencement of his prime ministry, it was not the time to take constitutional or legal actions. Opposition parties resisted such a drastic change, on the other hand, the media inscribed that any sort of reform could cause nationwide chaos. Erdoğan had to wait until 2013 to take an official step. In his “Democratization Package” he revised the dress regulations and abolished the ban on headscarves in public, with the support of the third-largest party in the parliament. The removal of the ban can be examined in three stages; 1) Being aware of the problem and explaining in moderate language that people have been deprived of their freedom 2) Waiting for the appropriate time to resolve the problem 3) Earn people’s trust in himself about further ban removals. Erdoğan was now a freedom fighter who boosted hope in people.

6. Erdoğan the First

Erdoğan joined the political arena as a beacon of hope during the economic depression. However, the Gezi Park protest that took place fervidly in the 12th year of his rule, the “bribery and corruption” operations held between 17 and 25 December, and the people’s reaction against Erdoğan’s warnings regarding the mixed-gender student houses, the public became more subjected to politics in daily life. Threatening to ban Twitter, Erdoğan has aggravated his political language. When the calendar showed July 15, 2016, members of the Gülen Movement, who had been a social and political benefactor of Erdoğan for many years, attempted a coup d’etat. However, this endeavor was suppressed by the police force and Erdoğan’s live broadcast inviting the people to the streets. Erdoğan, who could afford the physical mobilization of the people only through a video call, came out of the coup attempt as a hero. Nevertheless, the fact that even his aide-de-camp was jailed for membership in FETO made Erdoğan distrustful even to his cabinet. Claiming that the authority to combat terrorism is essential, Erdoğan extended the state of emergency 7 times, at 3-month intervals. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced that “135 thousand 916 operations, 312 thousand 121 detentions, and 99 thousand 123 arrests have been made by the decision of the judicial authorities since July 15, 2016, within the scope of the fight against FETO.” (Gazete Vatan, 2021). However, Erdoğan, whose power seems not enough for himself, stated the need for a constitutional revision and aimed to change the 94-year-old representative parliamentary system. As a consequence of the referendum held in April 2017, nothing would be the same as before. “The “Presidential Government System”not only abolishes the independence of the legislative power against the President but also eliminates the independence of the judiciary. In other words, this system places not only the legislature but also the judiciary under the control of the President” (Gözler, 2016). While Montesquieu brought forward the principle of “Separation of powers” and alleged that the legislative, executive and judicial powers should be separately operated and per the check-balance principle, Rousseau, in his book “The Social Contract” defended the “Unity of powers” that a single person should hold the legislative, executive and judicial powers, and therefore the power of the ruler becomes indivisible and a more stable government could be reached. Erdoğan ought to convince the public opinion that his presidential system will provide an advanced democracy, a stronger economy as well as more extended human rights. As for his aim of being the absolute man, he needed to present reasonable and explainable reasons. AKP ran a massive referendum campaign, publishing brochures, advertisements, billboards, and booklets alongside open-air meetings. In the brochure titled “Towards the Referendum: Presidential Government System”, it was argued that this new system will provide a great benefit to the country. At the outset, the erroneous articles of the current constitution were described, and then the following promises were made: 

1) “In this system, the president will be the head of the State and the executive, and the duality in the executive will come to an end.” (p.5) 

2) “The expectations of our people will be reflected in the legal order quicker and will achieve a more effective representative functioning.” (p.7)

3) “A fast and effective execution will eliminate the cost increases caused by the loss of time, focus on resource production, and accelerate the economic growth and development process.” (ibid)

4) “Decisions regarding security can be taken more quickly.” (ibid)

Preeminently, people are exposed to the idea of ​​how the current parliamentary system causes obstacles for Erdoğan, and then they are proposed fundamental goals that nobody could refuse; such as a more powerful economy, a more secure environment, stronger democracy, etc. Erdoğan aimed to bring these promises into a single discourse in terms of providing hope for the future. That is, “2023 Vision. He asserted 2023 to be a turning point that will change the history of Turkey. The list of exemplifications is as follows: “We have the power and determination to build a new and great future for ourselves. That’s why we want a strong Turkey, that’s why we want to achieve our 2023 goals, that’s why we want to gift 2053 and 2071 visions to our youth and that’s why we have transformed our nation into a new one with the constitutional amendment” (Erdoğan, 2017). “We plan to become one of the 10 largest economies in the world in 2023. We aim to increase the per capita income to 25 thousand dollars” (Ünker, 2017). “Turkey needs a stronger government. We have to change the governmental system to fight against terrorism and be successful in our region and reach our 2023 goals.” (Erdoğan, 2017). Using such futuristic and populist rhetoric, Erdoğan promised people a better future and argued that the Turkish economy will be strikingly developed. Erdoğan, controlling the mainstream media, also began comprehensive propaganda by proclaiming Turkey will hold better economic and political earnings by 2023. It was claimed in the news that all the conditions for joining the EU will be met, 50 billion dollars will be obtained from tourism in 2023, and exportation volume will be 500 billion dollars. The purpose of these discourses was to get the people to participate in this vision. In his press conferences, Erdoğan has persistently stated that this system will be effective in achieving their 2023, 2053, and 2071 targets, he will fight inflation and interest lobbies. On the other hand, opposition parties accused the proposed system of transforming the republic into a political party organization and stated that state agencies and structures that should be independent would serve a political ideology. In this system, the chairman of the party has the title of commander-in-chief with an indefinite deadline and becomes the head of the judiciary. Moreover, this system abolishes the basis for ministers to be deputies, as well as the interpellation, a question brought to the ministers by deputies, which can eventually be prompted for investigation. This system provides a structure that the appointed would not be questioned by the elected, and therefore democracy would no longer be a matter. Erdoğan now wanted to declare his sultanate. When it comes to the referendum day, “51,41% “Yes” votes came out of the ballot box. After the “No” vote of 48.59% was given to the constitutional amendment, those who defended the parliamentary system, especially the main opposition party CHP, objected to the results. However, Erdoğan’s words dropped the subject: “That ship has sailed”. The rest of the reactions and objections in the following days remained inconclusive.” (Yazıcıoğlu, 2018). Turkey has now voluntarily fallen into the clutches of a hollow hope.

7. Discussion and Conclusion

Taking everything into consideration, when people build their future, they construct plans based on logic. However, these plans should not be ungrounded and futile, so that they can be chased after. Hope possession becomes a must for their survival. In the same way, it has been observed that governments seek to keep the hopes of their citizens under control. To maintain their sovereignty and power, they need to convince society that their future will be more satisfying. Promises and vows are made not only during election propaganda but also when they are in power. Erdoğan entered the political arena at a time when Turkey was experiencing economic problems and political conflicts, not promising for the future, and when society was in depression. By presenting the facts that they wanted to hear, that is, rationally explaining that they deserve a better future, he strengthened their loyalty to him and AKP. He succeeded in consolidating people by offering the common good (a better economy, extended freedom, rights, etc.) that no one could deny. His ability to manage the hopes of the people also opened a path for his sultanate. In 2017, he altered the constitutional system and established the presidential system by developing a discourse on the “2023 Vision”. With the promise of a better life for future generations, he expanded his sovereignty by adopting the principle of “Unity of powers”. Therefore, it has been observed that being able to have the titles of the saviour of the economy and freedom fighter in his early political years, Erdogan’s rhetoric changed in 2017 as a result of his long years in power. Erdogan, who could be a hope in terms of economy and prohibitions in 2002, established the presidential system in 2017, which de facto gave him the title of Erdoğan the First.

Fuat Can Moralıoğlu

Siyaset Bilimi Staj Programı


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