Will AKP-MHP alliance continue in 2019 local elections?
In an executive meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) on June 29, President Tayyip Erdoğan, who chaired it, reportedly asked party officials not to get too comfortable due to the June 24 election win and to focus on the municipal elections of March 2019.
At the same meeting, AK Parti spokesperson Mahir Ünal said the party has to have the AK Parti congress in August 2018, earlier than expected. It has been reported that the reason behind the decision is to allow the party to get prepared for the local election campaigns with a new cadre, which means that some names will change according to needs and after Erdoğan evaluates them.
Possible changes can be expected at two levels: Names within the party structure and the names to be shown as candidates for municipalities.
For mayoral candidates, Erdoğan reportedly suggested AK Parti should seek popular local figures rather than ideologically-committed party names.
For the party structure, it is important to look at the upper echelons of the party. Following the 2017 referendum to shift the governance system to an executive presidential model, Erdoğan was re-elected as the party’s chair, which had been held by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım since Erdoğan’s election as president in the 2014 polls. After the referendum, Yıldırım assumed the position of being the party group head (because Erdoğan is not a member of parliament) and to keep his post as prime minister since the office was still open during the transition period.
But now the Prime Ministry is abolished and Yıldırım is assumed to be the AK Parti’s candidate for Speaker of Parliament. The general feeling is that Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which allied with Erdoğan in the 2017 referendum and the 2018 elections, might support Yıldırım for that position. Then, who will be the AK Parti’s group head in parliament and who will act as Erdoğan’s shadow there? Hayati Yazıcı and Bekir Bozdağ are among the names mentioned, but Erdoğan will decide on that after listening to people he values.
Will those people include Bahçeli? That is a possibility no one should exclude. Erdoğan reportedly said in the June 29 AK Parti meeting that party officials should choose their words carefully when speaking about or criticizing the MHP. Bahçeli had dismissed one of his deputies, Sefer Aycan, hours before his meeting with Erdoğan on June 27 because Aycan said that from now on it was impossible for the AK Parti to do anything without the MHP’s approval, as the AK Parti could not get a parliamentary majority on its own and needs the MHP’s support. It has been reported that in the meeting Bahçeli suggested that Erdoğan could take similar action against Ünal, because Aycan’s words were in response to Ünal’s criticism of the MHP.
When all these are taken into consideration, it is not difficult to conclude that neither Erdoğan nor Bahçeli excludes the possibility of continuing their alliance in the March 2019 municipal elections and, at least until then, in parliament too.
That is in spite of widespread rumor in Ankara over the possibility of some members of parliament joining the AK Parti from other parties, mainly the right-wing İYİ (Good) Party, which could mean that Erdoğan would no longer need the backing of Bahçeli and free himself from the demands of the MHP leader at the same time. Yusuf Halaçoğlu of İYİ Party had voiced the deputy transfer scenarios on June 29.
But Erdoğan might prefer to carry on with the MHP at least until the municipal elections in order to guarantee to keep big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Mersin and Bursa and attempt to do the same with İzmir — the most important stronghold of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) which has been dismayed after the June 24 election defeat.