What would a nationalist voter do in this election?
One of the most critical questions regarding the snap elections to be held in three weeks’ time concerns the poll results for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The voting preferences of traditional Turkish nationalist voters since the opposition inside the MHP has separated from the party under the new identity of the İYİ (Good) Party can be a determining factor in influencing the June 24 election.
If the traditional MHP base does not diminish by much and supports the People’s Alliance—formed by the MHP and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)—it will lead to a political balance desired by the AKP; but if the same base diminishes greatly and leans toward the Nation Alliance—an electoral alliance between four opposition parties including the İYİ Party—this will lead to a political balance in which the opposition will have the upperhand, especially in parliament.
An observation that could be made at this stage by setting out from concrete data is that the MHP is a party that has great flexibility to attain votes from other parties but also to lose votes to others. Previous elections have shown the MHP can easily be a center of attention for both center-right and conservative voters. But these voting movements can take place in a way that have the MHP lose votes to others.
When we look at the MHP’s journey for the last 20 years under Devlet Bahçeli’s leadership, we see its most important success was in 1999. It became Turkey’s second biggest party following Bülent Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP) after it attained 5.6 million votes (17.89 percent). This is the MHP’s biggest success in its history. For three and a half years, it has made the party the second biggest partner in government.
The determinant factor of the MHP’s success in this election was the weariness of the continuing fights between the True Path Party (DYP) and the Motherland Party (ANAP) had caused in these parties’ electorate bases. The reaction in the center-right base had shifted the votes to the new and yet untried face of politics, Devlet Bahçeli’s MHP.
The Nov. 3, 2002 election on the other hand ended up with the MHP staying below the election threshold of 10 percent, following the turbulences of the three-party coalition in the previous period. As a result of Cem Uzan’s newly founded Young Party attracting some of the votes from the nationalist base, the MHP’s votes fell to 8.3 percent of the total votes. With 2.3 million votes, the MHP stayed below the 10 percent election threshold and could not be represented in the parliament’s 22nd legislative period.
When we come to the 2007 elections, it is very interesting that the MHP, which experienced a heavy fall in 2002, garnered 14.27 percentage of the votes, almost doubling its votes to around 5 million. It could be said the MHP received back the votes it had lost in 2002 election and also gained from the electorate base of center-right parties, such as the DYP and the ANAP, after the latter thoroughly started to melt away.
The most difficult election the MHP faced was the general election of 2011. The reason for this was that the party was driven into a corner, especially by the Gülen network (through illegal video footage released about its members), in an attempt to have it stay below the 10 percent election threshold. The AKP has followed a strategy to take advantage of the outcome of the Gülen network’s political operation, with whom they had been in an alliance with at the time.
Despite having experienced heavy strikes and having lost many deputy candidates from the party’s top management, the MHP still received around 5.6 million votes and accomplished to keep its losses limited in 2011. It is also a widespread wisdom that in that period, a limited number of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) electorate voted for the MHP to keep the latter from staying below the threshold. Also, in the following 2014 local elections, in some regions such as the inner Aegean, a meaningful transition of votes between the CHP and MHP has been observed.
Another success by the MHP is it increased its votes to 7.4 million in the June 7, 2015 election, garnering 16.45 percent of the votes. This percentage is the closest the MHP received in terms of its success in 1999. When the AKP’s huge loss of votes is taken into account, it is not wrong to say a meaningful transition from the conservative base to the MHP has been experienced in the June 7, 2015 general election. The AKP’s loss was the MHP’s gain.
However, in the Nov. 1, 2015 general election, which was conducted five months later, the situation received a dramatic slap in the face. In an environment with terror incidents happening one after another, the MHP experienced a very heavy fall once again, losing 1.8 million votes with its votes falling to 5.6 million. When the AKP’s increase in votes from 18.3 million to 23 million in this election is taken into account, we can say the MHP’s loss went to the AKP nearly as a block. All of this data shows the MHP’s descent and rise has generally been drastic at the ballot box.