Excluding the mayoral elections scheduled for the spring of 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his two-party Islamist-nationalist “People’s Alliance” probably have no imminent challenge except unpredictability regarding what new steps Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli might take. It could be said the most imminent challenge to the absolute rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might come from the MHP and Bahçeli.
It was Bahçeli who brought the end of the three-way coalition government of late Bülent Ecevit in 2001 by calling an early election that brought the newly established Justice and Development Party (AKP) to government. It was also Bahçeli who suddenly changed after years of staunch anti-Erdoğan rhetoric after the June 2015 polls in the country, avoided the creation of a coalition government, and helped Erdoğan call for a repeat election that provided the AKP with a parliamentary majority again in November 2015.
Since then, Bahçeli has been a staunch supporter of Erdoğan and the presidential governance system, despite his earlier assertions that such a government model would usher autocracy and dictatorship in the country. It was again Bahçeli who helped Erdoğan and the AKP achieve constitutional amendments in April 2016 and who suggested early elections in June that carried Erdoğan to the position of super executive president.
It’s no secret there have been some incompatibilities between the AKP and the MHP during the recent election campaign period. Indeed, Bahçeli has made some warning remarks regarding the attitudes of some AKP senior personalities but Erdoğan has managed to soothe his complaints, salvaging a not-so-easy alliance between the two parties. Due to Bahçeli’s high unpredictability, in this new period, Erdoğan and the AKP must find ways of reducing dependency on the nationalist party in order to attain parliamentary majority so they do not become hostages of the MHP.
Erdoğan is a pragmatist personality. He could buy out a handful of the MHP or perhaps the Good (İYİ) Party deputies in order to overcome the few seats his party secured in the election, deficient of the parliamentary majority. It should not be that difficult to “convince” eight to 10 deputies to join the AKP. Such a move, of course, may open the “bourse of deputies,” which might hurt the AKP as well in the long run. Still, if Bahçeli continues to puzzle the AKP and Erdoğan with some “pleasant,” or worse, “non-pleasant” offers, leading Erdoğan to conclude the alliance with the MHP might falter, the president would definitely look for alternatives, including buying the fidelity of some opponent deputies.
What moves will Erdoğan undertake in announcing his first “executive cabinet” next week to please the MHP? The MHP has already made it clear that it was not at all interested in having a formal coalition government, though it is no secret that the nationalist party has already made some serious inroads in state bureaucracy, benefitting from its enhanced and pivotal role in the “new Turkey.”
There are many speculations in Ankara. These speculations have been so loud that even this writer could hear about them on a visit to Amsterdam. Could Erdoğan get onboard with the İYİ Party as well? It might be an exaggeration but hearing the probability of Meral Akşener becoming vice president has been rather interesting. After all, nothing is impossible in politics.
Erdoğan’s next important challenge, I am afraid, will be the terrible economic situation. Turks have already started to discover the reality of life, with price hikes coming one after another since the elections are over. Fuel prices have hiked twice, for example. How will the persistent erosion in the value of the Turkish Lira be contained by the new government? Election promises were helpful but now, the time has come to deliver. How?
Relations with the European Union have never been so bad. Ignoring the EU’s not so pleasant decisions on Turkey might be an option but can Turkey really continue on this collision course particularly knowing how unreliable the other options it has are? Transatlantic ties and looming sanctions because of the S-400 deal endanger Turkey’s allied relations. Can it indeed insist on walking such a dangerous road?