MHP seeks recognition as partner of AKP gov’t: Journalist Kemal Can
BARÇIN YİNANÇNationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli’s recent move to revive the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) efforts for a presidential system has puzzled many, but journalist Kemal Can believes it is part of a bid to extend leverage over the government.
“Bahçeli decided to take his place on the side of the government after the inconclusive June 7, 2015 election. Now he wants to force the AKP to recognize the MHP as a partner, by saying ‘make me part of the process that will lead to a presidential system,’” Can, a veteran observer of the MHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
What is the MHP trying to do? What is its strategy?
Bahçeli took a simple political decision after the June 7, 2015 election. He drew the conclusion that Turkey’s political near future would be based on balances built on blocs. He saw that [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan would make radical changes in his Kurdish policy and foreign policy, including toward the European Union. So Bahçeli chose to be part of the right-wing bloc, a bloc of the government. The steps he has taken since taking that decision are in line with that choice, including giving support to state of emergency rule.
So why wasn’t there a coalition between the AKP and the MHP after the June 7 election?
Bahçeli was quite warm to the idea of a coalition. It was Erdoğan who chose to go to elections again.
But the MHP lost votes in the Nov. 1, 2015 reelection. Bahçeli was not made into a partner of the government. His party lost strength and it ended up with fewer MPs.
Think of it another way. If the MHP had stayed in an opposition bloc, it would have ended up falling into the position of opposing the AKP’s Kurdish policy, which after the election became even more hawkish than that of the MHP. It would also have appeared to be in the same bloc as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Bahçeli therefore had to choose between a bigger or smaller loss.
Now that Bahçeli has decided to be in the government bloc, does that mean his latest moves should be read as support for the presidential system?
Not really. The choice he made on taking his place in one bloc is based on a general positioning. This was very important because he has managed to consolidate his position within his party. Remaining in the opposition bloc would have made it difficult for him to maintain the party’s ideological position. He probably would not have maintained his leadership so easily in the face of opposition within his party. Without the judicial support given by the AKP, his life would have been more difficult. Meanwhile, some of the cadres that the AKP needed after the coup attempt - especially in security institutions and after the purge of the Gülenists – have been filled by MHP sympathizers.
How should we read Bahçeli’s stance on the presidential system?
The strongest actor in this presidential debate is the AKP, and Erdoğan’s strategy will determine the process. Bahçeli’s move could be seen as an act to remind people of his presence. He wants the AKP to recall that the MHP is part of the bloc. “Life will be easier if I become part of the process and if we make it look like we are working for an understanding,” he’s saying. That is how I read it. I don’t agree with conspiracy theories that he is setting a trap. The MHP does not have the tools or the power to set a trap.
But what motivated Bahçeli to revive the presidential debate right at this moment, after the failed June 15 military coup attempt?
The vague stance that he has shown should not be taken as open support. He is basically saying: “I will support the presidential system if you recognize me as a partner of government. Sit at the table with me and seek an agreement. Prepare a constitutional proposal with elements that can persuade me. Show that you are trying to persuade me. Accept me as an interlocutor and I can then say to my constituency: ‘We are in this bloc. The country is under attack both inside and outside, we are making sacrifices but the government is taking us seriously.’”
Was there a need for Bahçeli to remind people of his presence?
The de facto presidential system that came around with the state of emergency could go on for some time. Bahçeli is now the leader who has interrupted the continuation of the present situation. By doing so he forces the AKP to take the MHP’s views into consideration. In other words, he is forcing the AKP to take a step.
There could be two reasons behind this: The AKP might opt to go to early elections to secure the necessary 400 MPs required for the constitutional change, rather than try to persuade the MHP. That would not be good for the MHP, so perhaps Bahçeli wanted to take preemptive action - not to prevent an early election but to go to any election as part of the government bloc. He needs to show that he is an important actor. Or maybe there is already a behind the scenes agreement between the AKP and the MHP and Bahçeli has taken on the mission to make it public.
He still says he is in favor of the parliamentary system. Does that mean that he is giving the green light to such a systemic change only for his own survival and the survival of his party?
Strong leadership and strong governance are in the doctrine of the MHP, which in the past has had a program in favor of changing to a presidential system. The parliamentary system is not a red line for the MHP’s ideological roots.
If there is an understanding between the two parties, can we assume that the MHP’s support for the presidential system is a given?
Half of the MHP’s parliamentary group has to say “yes” in the vote in parliament [in order to take the issue to a referendum]. That’s not difficult. The challenge for Erdoğan is whether the AKP will be able to get a bloc ‘yes’ vote. To what degree will the AKP be able to mobilize the support it received in past elections for a change to the presidential system. The AKP has a problem on whether it has convinced its entire constituency on the presidential system. The change in the system is also not a key motivation for MHP voters.
Should we assume that the MHP will say “yes” to the presidential system once an understanding has been reached with the AKP?
The MHP will say “yes” to the vote in parliament. In the subsequent referendum it will also say “yes” but it will not lead an enthusiastic campaign.
When we talk about an “agreement,” are we talking about tough negotiations?
It is more like a kind of face-saving exercise to show that the AKP is taking the MHP seriously. Otherwise there will not be too many differences. The MHP will try to secure a constitutional set-up, like maintaining the word “Turkish” in the constitution, which will prevent any renewed Kurdish peace initiative. It will seek a presidential system that does not open the door to federation but rather consolidates the unitary nature of the state.
Who is Kemal Can?
Born in 1964, Kemal Can graduated from Ankara University’s Political Science Faculty in 1986.
From 1984 on, he worked at several written media outlets, including Nokta magazine, daily Sabah and daily Milliyet.
In 1999 he started working for CNN Türk. The following year he became an advisor to NTV on politics, where he later became an editor, news coordinator and deputy news editor.
He spent 2008 producing a TV documentary as well as a movie on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, called “Mustafa,” that was directed by journalist Can Dündar.
From 2013 until its recent closure, he was a production adviser at imc TV.
His political analysis are published in daily Cumhuriyet.
He is the author and co-author of several books about nationalism and nationalist parties in Turkey.