What is the MHP up to?
There are currently three top processes dominating Turkey’s internal political agenda.
The first is the worrisome assault against main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The second is the Supreme Election Board’s (YSK) inquiry on the government’s appeal for the renewal of the Istanbul polls. The third is how the political landscape will be shaped in the aftermath of the local elections, particularly after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested the formation of “the Alliance of Turkey,” an idea his main political ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, slammed publicly.
It would be too naïve to deny that these processes are intertwined. The chronology of the past few days tells a lot about this link. On April 17, the CHP’s Ekrem İmamoğlu received his credential as the mayor of Istanbul, a day after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) appealed for the renewal of polls.
On April 18, Erdoğan suggested to leave all political tension behind, shake hands and cool off the hot iron by establishing the “Alliance of Turkey” as the election period was over. On the same day, the CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu sounded similar by disseminating positive messages for the post-election era. He ruled out any calls for snap elections and offered his party’s support for the resolution to the key problems of Turkey.
On April 19, a thread of Twitter messages by Erdoğan repeated his messages for unity and togetherness under the Alliance of Turkey. Kılıçdaroğlu, on the same day, reiterated his messages to this end, as Bahçeli gathered all his lawmakers, elected mayors and party officials for a three-day assessment meeting in Antalya.
These warm messages by top politicians from the two separate camps have injected optimism for the normalization of the political environment with rumors that even a summit between political party leaders could take place either by the initiative of Erdoğan or Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop.
It was the day when the Defense Ministry announced that four Turkish soldiers were martyred in an ambush with the PKK on the Iraqi border.
April 21 started with a comprehensive statement by Bahçeli during the closing of the Antalya meeting of his party. Three main messages were conveyed by the MHP leader:
-The MHP achieved a great success in the local elections as it increased its votes to nearly 19 percent and the number of municipalities it controls.
-The MHP continues to see the Istanbul mayoral polls as a matter of national survival and calls on the YSK to annul them on allegations that the winner was in cooperation with the PKK and FETÖ. Bahçeli was even more vocal than many AKP officials in his insistence on the matter and in pressing the YSK members on.
-Bahçeli publicly slammed Erdoğan’s narrative on the Alliance of Turkey, recalling that the only viable and valid partnership was the People’s Alliance between the AKP and the MHP. He warned Erdoğan that Turkey’s enemies and their collaborators were still in plans to divide Turkey even after the polls.
Bahçeli’s words have been interpreted in a way that he wants to extend the mandate of his partnership with Erdoğan so that his influence both in shaping the policies and on state bureaucracy would not be cut.
On the same day, around one hour after Bahçeli’s words, news broke on the attack against Kılıçdaroğlu. It would be needless to underline that it had a shocking effect on the entire nation as the attack reminded of bitter experiences of the past. The whole nation breathed a sigh of relief only after Kılıçdaroğlu was saved and unharmed.
CHP officials who were in the scene with Kılıçdaroğlu said the attack was pre-organized and that around a dozen men were constantly provoking the participants in the funeral. Although Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu denied the CHP’s version of the incident for the lack of evidence, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the AKP, Naci Bostancı, pointed out at the fact that the assault took place after Erdoğan proposed to “cool off the hot iron” and reconcile.
Kılıçdaroğlu openly blamed some anonymous circles inside and outside Turkey for hindering the normalization process in the country and sparking chaos and turmoil. Although Kılıçdaroğlu never accused any political party of involvement in the plot, Bahçeli issued a written statement on April 22 and rejected conspiracy theories over the involvement of MHP groups.
On April 22, daily Hürriyet’s Ankara representative Hande Fırat wrote in her column, citing senior government sources, that Erdoğan’s call for the Alliance of Turkey was not a special call and did not refer to any political composition. Erdoğan also had no plans to meet opposition leaders or to call CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu to express his personal emotions over the incident, she wrote, again citing the same sources. In addition, sources made clear that the only alliance for Erdoğan was the People’s Alliance.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu came into the scene with a long political manifesto which was full of severe criticisms against the AKP’s policies on key issues. He was not hesitant in directing his criticisms even against Erdoğan, particularly over his continued alliance with the MHP, saying this partnership has lead the AKP to deviate from its fundamental principles. With rumors that he is planning to make a fresh start by forming his own party, this manifesto has been regarded as a strong signal to this end.
This summary over the developments in the last few days signals even more tense political debates in the coming period. The MHP will continue to exert efforts to keep the People’s Alliance on track, while the CHP will press on the government for a detailed investigation on the attack to find out who was behind it. All eyes will be on Erdoğan to figure out to what extent this attack will have an effect on the AKP’s post-election strategy and on the future of its partnership with the MHP.
But before all, one has to see what decision the YSK will make on the Istanbul polls.