MHP seeks a leader in search of a new hope
Barçın Yinanç - email@example.comAlthough the opponents within the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) failed yesterday to hold a congress, facing the obstruction of the party’s headquarters, the serious internal problem which has surfaced can only be solved by holding a congress, according to veteran journalist Taha Akyol. Voters blame the current leader for the Nov. 1, 2015, election results and are looking for a leadership change in search of new hope, said Akyol, who held a high position in the MHP in the late 1970s.
How do you describe what is going on in the MHP?
This is a democratic movement. There is a belief that following the successful result of the June 7, (2015,) elections, the party lost votes in the Nov. 1, (2015,) elections due to the fact that MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said “no” to all offers. The party’s constituency has reacted to that. As the view that the MHP lost votes because of Bahçeli started to widen within the voters, this brought about the idea of a change in the party’s leadership. And we now have four candidates.
What was the turning point, the November elections?
There was nothing serious prior to that. The June 7 elections ended with 80 parliamentarians for the MHP. The party’s supporters wanted to be part of the government. And then three months later you go to elections and lose 40 parliamentary seats and what’s more you stay behind the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). It’s impossible not to react to this.
Is the issue limited to not being part of the government?
There are factors like feeling strong and avoiding becoming marginalized behind the concept of being part of the government or not. Losing votes shortly after an electoral victory led to reactions, just as it would do so in other parties.
You seem to attribute the reaction to leadership. If there were to be a change in the leadership, would there be soul-searching as well?
There will be soul-searching because winning new votes means winning over new masses; it means becoming a catch-all party. The MHP cannot grow as long as it stays like a small doctrinaire party. In the period prior to Bahçeli, during Alparslan Türkeş’s leadership, the MHP was never able to go beyond 6 percent, despite the fact that anti-communism was an attractive concept. That’s because there was a very strong center-right party, the Justice Party (AP). The MHP influenced the ideological basis of the AP but could not get votes from the AP’s (constituency).
By the time Türkeş died, the world had changed. The Sept. 12, (1980,) military coup had harmed the center-right. The fight between Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz had eroded the center-right. This had two results: The MHP got stronger while the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came into being. But Türkeş’s pupils were not as successful as Necmettin Erbakan’s (the leader of the Islamist party) pupils.
Bahçeli reached 16 percent of the votes because there were the right conditions. Bahçeli meant a change and that inspired hope. The MHP is currently in search of hope with a new leadership change. The challenge in front of the MHP is to see whether it can get votes from the AKP’s constituency. The June 7 elections showed it can; the Nov. 1 elections showed it can lose them too. There is serious mobility between the two parties. The President (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) is focused on the presidential system and is trying to get votes from the MHP by using nationalist rhetoric. There is currently a fear that the MHP can even stay below the threshold in the next elections.
How do you explain Bahçeli’s stance following the June 7 elections?
I cannot explain it in a rational way. He did not think there would be snap elections.
Bahçeli is a very honest leader. He cleansed the party of those involved in dirty jobs. But that is not enough. You need to be open to the masses, be in communication with the people, go on TVs. He is not active enough. Even high-level party members complain of not having enough communication with him. This is the point you come to with this type of leadership.
What do you mean when you say the MHP will enter into a period of soul-searching if the opposition within the party succeeds?
I mean communicating with the masses. You can address the ülkücü (the idealists, the core basis of the party), or you can address the people, the nation, the workers, the farmers. Then the masses you address become larger. That’s what I am talking about when I say soul-searching. To make the MHP more of a catch-all party. A new spirit is needed to make the MHP get more votes.
Many believe there is not much difference between the MHP and the AKP in terms of ideology and the political views of their voters.
This is not true. The Islamists used to get 10 percent and the nationalists 6 percent. But when you talk about nationalist conservatives, then you come across a huge crowd. The nationalist vein of this crowd is represented by the MHP while the conservative vein is represented by the AKP. That’s why there is mobility. The only place the MHP can increase its votes is from the AKP, in other words, the nationalist-conservatives.
Does that mean that it will have to endorse more Islamism?
The question here is not for the MHP to become more Islamist but to what degree it can attract votes from the center-right. Meral Akşener says she can do it. She has experience in the center-right of the political wing.
Would a leader that is in better communication with the people be enough for the MHP to increase its votes?
When I talk about getting in touch with the people, I don’t only mean visiting homes and shops shaking hands. You need to talk about daily issues, economic problems, unemployment, women issues, traffic. The new spirit should be to insert practical policies into ideological rhetoric.
What do you think will happen now?
There is no matured democracy in any of the parties in Turkey. This is more so with the right-wing parties. You cannot explain the resistance of the party headquarters to the demand for a congress of 500 or so party delegates. Had there been a congress, we would not have lived through these crises. But now the issue is in the hands of the courts, which have issued contradictory decisions. This is a disgrace for the judiciary. Now it is in the hands of the Courts of Appeals and no one knows what’s going on there. We see a rapprochement between the MHP and the AKP which raises question marks as to whether the government is putting pressure on the judiciary. It is impossible to understand why the Court of Appeals is delaying the decision.
How do you see Bahçeli’s stance against the dissidents in the party?
What he is doing is wrong. There is a serious problem within the MHP and this cannot be solved without a congress.
Whatever happens in the short-term, do you think Bahçeli’s term is over?
I see that Akşener has created enthusiasm and that the party will make a jump if she were to be elected to head the party. But we cannot asses this as the end of Bahçeli’s time.
Could the opposition within the MHP split and form another party?
I don’t see it. The political tradition within which the opponents are coming from would not like the idea of separation. The struggle will continue within the party.
What will a change in the MHP mean for Turkish politics?
If the opposition in the MHP is successful, issues like the presidential system, the AKP turning into a dominant party like the liberal party in Japan will be out of question. There will rather be AKP-MHP coalitions. All the candidates in the MHP have said they are against the presidential system.
Where will the MHP stand on key issues, like the Kurdish issue?
I find the MHP’s Kurdish stance wrong. When a leader known to be a nationalist addresses the masses, he or she should take into consideration that not only Turks but also those who identify themselves as Kurds listen. The dissidents have not made a clear statement on that; I don’t know what they will do.
In terms of the economy, how will relations with the world be?
All of the candidates will be much more open to the outside world, much more open to market economy and foreign capital.
In case there is a leadership change in the MHP, will it play a role in stopping democratic backpedalling in Turkey?
Indeed there is a democratic backpedalling in Turkey. The reason is checks and balances. Checks and balances should not be present only in the executive, legislature and judiciary but also in the political spectrum. When the AKP will lose power (in terms of losing votes) this authoritarianism will turn back by itself towards democratization. When the MHP gets some of the AKP’s votes, this will bode well for checks and balances and democracy.
Wh0 is Taha Akyol?
A graduate of Istanbul University’s law faculty, Akyol started his professional career as a lawyer in the Eastern city of Yozgat. After moving to Ankara he began writing columns for daily Hergün.
He was arrested during the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, as he was one of the high level members of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) at the time. He was held in Ankara’s notorious Mamak prison, but was acquitted during the trial.
He wrote columns for 20 years for daily Milliyet and currently he is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, also hosting a T.V. program on CNN Turk. Akyol is the author of several books, including “Violence in Politics,” “Science and Delusion,” “Sects and States in the Ottoman Empire and Iran,” “But Which Atatürk” and “Atatürk’s Law of Revolution.”