Turkey now has a formal nationalist alliance

Turkey now has a formal nationalist alliance

Two major developments were witnessed in the second week of 2018 in Turkish politics.

The first one was an open call from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a long-term alliance before and after the 2019 presidential elections. The second was the government’s announcement of its intention to extend emergency rule for a sixth time since July 2016, stirring concerns that it will not be lifted any time soon.

MHP head Devlet Bahçeli, who has made a number of unexpected political moves throughout his career, delivered some crucial messages in the lengthy press conference that I attended on Jan. 8.

First, he made it clear that the MHP would not present a candidate for the presidential elections in 2019 and would instead back the nomination of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Bahçeli therefore openly declared that his MHP would no longer run for power, but would instead prefer to be an associate of the government. This move could well hasten the process of the MHP’s melting within the AKP.

His second message was about the MHP’s willingness to form an alliance with the AKP for the parliamentary elections. This is obviously part of a bid to re-enter parliament, as the MHP party is at serious risk of falling below the 10 percent election threshold.

But Bahçeli also made it clear that the AKP-MHP partnership would likely not be limited to elections in 2019. He suggested that the MHP would continue its contribution and support for the AKP between 2019 and 2024 in order to cement in place Turkey’s new executive-presidency political model. He thus effectively signaled open-ended support for the AKP and Erdoğan in the coming years.

Bahçeli’s move is also a message to the opposition parties that formed the “No” block in the April 2017 referendum that narrowly approved a major shift from a parliamentary system to an executive-presidency system.

“If you could come together as a ‘No’ bloc, why not back a legal amendment to allow election alliances at parliament?” Bahçeli asked, provoking them to form their own alliance against what he called “the alliance of the people.”

His political objective is to depict the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the nationalist Good (İYİ) Party as an “opposition alliance” that draws support from the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and other dark forces.

No doubt President Erdoğan also thinks along the same lines. He said on Jan. 9 that the next elections would be a competition between nationalists and people who are under the control of “other powers.” In short, these polls will be yet another reflection of “us vs. them” politics, further polarizing society.

Although Erdoğan has welcomed and praised Bahçeli’s support, it remains to be seen exactly how talks between the AKP and the MHP will develop in terms of forming a legal and formal alliance.

AKP officials have long been meticulously working on different election and alliance models in order to find out the best formula for the AKP’s 2019 objectives. Whatever this formula turns out to be, it is more or less certain that the AKP-MHP duo wants to turn the 2019 elections into yet another referendum on Erdoğan’s presidency, regardless of who his contenders are.

Serkan Demirtaş, hdn, Opinion