The dilemmas of Turkey’s nationalist party

The dilemmas of Turkey’s nationalist party

The German Free Democratic Party, which usually gets around 10 percent of the vote, has been in the federal government longer than any other party in Germany, as a junior partner in successive coalitions. 

As the third party in Turkey’s June 7 general election, with 16 percent of the votes, one might think that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) would rejoice at the possibility of being in power.

But from the first day on, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has continued to use uncompromising rhetoric, apparently shutting all doors to possible coalitions.

Looking deeper, one can find potential reasons why the MHP remains so unwilling to take part in a coalition.

Despite the fact that there was a bit more of an emphasis on economic issues in the election, with candidates including a heavyweight like Durmuş Yılmaz, the former head of the Central Bank, the MHP continues to be perceived as a single-issue party. It has stated in no uncertain terms that it will put an end to the peace process with the Kurds if it comes to power.

Despite harsh rhetoric against the Kurds before the campaign, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which initiated the peace process, was expected by its constituency to continue the talks. That means 41 percent of the electorate gave its consent to reconciliation with the Kurds. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which got 25 percent of the vote, is not against the peace process. And when you add to this picture the votes of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), it becomes fair to say that a big majority of the electorate is fine - or at least is not dead against - the talks to find a solution to the issue.

Still, part of the MHP’s increase in votes stems from conservative voters’ frustration with the AKP, which does not necessarily mean votes shifted due to the MHP’s stance on the Kurdish issue. But let’s assume that the party represents 16 percent of people who are against the process. Can the MHP and other parties dare to stop the process, against the will of a big majority, for the sake of establishing a government? In that case, can we expect Kurds inside and outside of Turkey, armed or unarmed, to sit calmly? Can the MHP and other parties taking part in a coalition on condition of stopping the process take responsibility for disrupting the relative social peace that started taking root in terms of Kurdish reconciliation?

Most probably MHP head Bahçeli is aware that the solution process cannot be reversed. He may not want to be the one to stop it, but he also absolutely does not want to be part of it.

Let’s recall that it was MHP which, as a junior coalition partner back in 2002, gave its consent to abolishing the death penalty, saving from the gallows the outlawed Kurdistan Peoples’ Party’s (PKK) jailed leader. Bahçeli, who was also heading the MHP at that time, is probably not happy to be known as the leader who saved the life of Abdullah Öcalan - seen by the party’s constituency as the number one enemy of the state.

He was, however, always appreciated - especially by Turkey’s elites - for acting in accordance with the responsibility of his name (“Devlet” means state in Turkish). He has also been appreciated for never provoking the MHP youth to take action against Kurds or the Kurdish peace process.

Bahçeli may not like to accept it, and he will never accept it officially, but history will therefore probably remember him as a leader who contributed to peace - at least by not obstructing it. As a result, strictly looking from where he stands, Bahçeli might have an understandable reason to stay away from any coalition formula.

However, conservatives in Turkey who are frustrated with the AKP deserve better than a single-issue party on the right-wing of the political spectrum. How long can the MHP continue to remain a single-issue party?