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Yeniden Refah, the Turkish Islamist party that upended Erdogan

By AFP

April 1, 2024 08:02 PM


The Turkish Islamist party Yeniden Refah took more votes than expected in Turkey's municipal elections Sunday, undermining the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and contributing to painful losses in major cities across the country.

By taking 6.2 percent of the vote nationwide, Yeniden Refah, or "New Welfare", has established itself as the third force in Turkish politics.

- From the father to son -

Founded in  2018, Yeniden Refah carries on the spirit of Necmettin Erbakan, an influential politician who was once Erdogan's mentor.

In the late 1960s, Erbakan created the Milli Gorus (National Vision) Islamist movement that inspired many political parties in Turkey and has a wide following amongst the Turkish diaspora in Germany and France.

A 21-year-old Erdogan took his first political steps with the party and it was thanks to the support of Necmettin Erbakan that he was elected Istanbul mayor in 1994.

But relations with his spiritual father deteriorated when Erdogan and his allies tried to unseat him at the head of the Refah party and then created AKP in 2002, excluding him.

Necmettin Erbakan, who was called "hodja" ("the professor"), died in 2011, and one of his sons, Fatih Erbakan, relaunched the party in 2018 under the name Yeniden Refah.

In the eyes of many observers, the young Erbakan has avenged his father in contributing to Erdogan's election defeats Sunday, by draining votes from the AKP and allowing the secular opposition to win not only in Istanbul but also in Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa.

 A rigid Islamism 

Yeniden Refah's conservative-Islamic views are more rigid than those of AKP, which is by comparison a more mainstream religious conservative party.

"We will close LGBT associations once we are in power. It's a heresy forbidden by all religions," its party leader has said.

The party opposes feminism and in 2021 supported Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which aims to combat violence against women.

In recent months, the party has particularly denounced Turkey's continued trade relations with Israel, despite the war in Gaza.

"If the government stops trading with Israel, closes the radar in Malatya (installed in 2012 by NATO of which Turkey is a member) which protects Israel, and doubles pensions to 20,000 Turkish lira (580 euros) a month, we are prepared to withdraw our candidate in Istanbul," Erbakan offered several days before the election.

Analysts say Yeniden Refah attracted many voters by placing the war in Gaza and inflation - currently running at 67 percent - at the heart of its campaign.

 Former and future allies ? 

 Yeniden Refah, which supported Erdogan during his successful presidential re-election campaign in 2023, won in two previously AKP-run provinces on Sunday, Sanliurfa in the southeast and Yozgat in the center.

With 6.2 percent of the vote nationally, it did better than Erdogan's coalition partner, the MHP (National Action Party), which took 5 percent.

"One should never trust those who tried to make us lose, even if they were once at our sides," Erdogan said during the campaign.

But given the election results, the Turkish president may be tempted to renew the alliance, some experts say.


AFP


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