President Erdoğan’s main political ally in serious trouble
If President and Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could nearly secure the approval of the constitutional amendments, which adopted an executive presidential system with excessive powers through the controversial referendum in mid-April, it was because of the support and unprecedented alliance of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The MHP had long been categorically against the AKP’s attempts to change the governance system as Chairman Devlet Bahçeli had accused Erdoğan of trying to impose a one-man regime in Turkey in a bid to save himself and his family from corruption probes. Bahçeli’s strong-worded accusations and criticisms against Erdoğan can still be found in the archives.
However, this very sharp stance by Bahçeli has dramatically changed, after the July 15 coup attempt staged by the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) members.
Only three months after the coup attempt, Bahçeli announced that his party will back the AKP’s plans to amend the constitution in order to strengthen the Turkish state and to make it resilient against any sort of coup attempts or attacks. With the MHP’s support, the AKP’s drafted amendments were able to receive more than the required 330 votes and therefore, were taken to the referendum.
But the MHP’s support in the parliament were not reflected in the referendum as around two thirds of the nationalist voters did not endorse constitutional amendments. The package was able to receive 51.4 percent “yes” votes, although the sum of the AKP and MHP’s votes in the most recent election were more than 61 percent. It was obvious that the MHP electorate did not follow their leaders in Turkey’s most critical poll ever.
Recent developments indicate that problems for Bahçeli are snowballing. In the last few weeks, mass resignations from MHP’s provincial organizations in Afyon, Bolu, Eskişehir etc. are being observed. In the meantime, around a dozen heads of the provincial organizations have been dismissed by the decision of MHP’s headquarters. Bahçeli’s long-term chief of cabinet has also announced his resignation from the MHP in recent days.
It is believed that many of those who resigned from the MHP will join the new political party to be founded by Meral Akşener in the coming months. Recent surveys show that Akşener’s party can attract around 20 percent of votes, while the MHP’s support has decreased to around four percent. The main reason for this tragic decrease is Bahçeli’s endless support of Erdoğan.
Akşener and her friends have long been doing politics under the MHP flag, but they have decided to go their own way after their attempts to topple Bahçeli by holding an extraordinary convention were blocked through controversial court decisions in 2016. Akşener at that time, accused the AKP government of intervening in the judicial process to save Bahçeli’s leadership. For many, this was one of the main reasons why Bahçeli decided to support Erdoğan.
Given this sour experience, Akşener and her friends are moving as careful as possible in order to not face any obstacles before forming their political party. That’s why they have intentions of waiting until the government amends the existing law on the political parties in efforts to harmonize current legislation with the amended referendum. Akşener’s aides say they have been working on different alternatives in order to avoid any potential attempt to stop the formation of their party.
In any case, Erdoğan’s main political ally will face serious challenges ahead. Akşener’s movement continues to grow, particularly in the central and western Anatolian parts of the country, while the MHP is in a process of melting. This will also have serious impacts not only for Bahçeli, but for Erdoğan as well, as he needs at least 50 percent plus one vote to be elected as the head of the nation in 2019.