Can an AK Party-MHP alliance be permanent?
There are a number of political reasons for the convergence of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party changed their policies on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syria, the peace process was discarded, and the Fethullahist Terror Organization’s (FETÖ) July 2016 coup attempt occurred. The pressure on MHP head Devlet Bahçeli from the domestic opposition within the MHP after the Nov. 1 election was also an important factor is consolidating the current alliance with the AK Party.
In addition to all this, the terror attacks of the PKK, ISIL and FETÖ that increased throughout 2015 and 2016, the moving of the Syrian civil war into our country (creating a threat of separatism), were also key. Meanwhile, Erdoğan and the AK Party started to opt for policies supported by the MHP, creating grounds for the convergence of the two parties.
Another important factor that has facilitated the AK Party-MHP alliance is the ideological closeness of the two parties. Within the AK Party you can find the nationalism that is prevalent in the MHP, while in the MHP you can find the conservatism that the AK Party represents. In the AK Party conservatism with religious motifs comes first, followed by nationalism; in the MHP nationalism comes first, followed by conservatism.
The nationalist-conservative field is the zone shared by both parties. The two million votes that switched between the two parties in the June 2015 and November 2015 elections is proof of this.
This common field is not new. When we look at history we see this combined zone in many coalition governments. It should not be forgotten that in the 1991 parliamentary election, the MHP and the Welfare Party (RP) forged an election alliance in order to cross the 10 percent threshold.
The most important factor that expands or shrinks this shared field between the AK Party and the MHP is the PKK. This field shrank during the peace process; it expanded after the June election amid the military and political fight against the PKK. The AK Party’s change of policy on the PKK gave MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli room for maneuver.
The PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan are important factors affecting Turkish politics. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its predecessors are shaped to a great extent according to the PKK’s preferences. The PKK also has a broader effect in Turkish politics.
This effect has always been present historically. In the 1999 election, what made Bülent Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP) emerge as the top party and Bahçeli’s MHP emerge as the second party is the fact that Abdullah Öcalan was caught during Ecevit’s term as prime minister.
The capture of Öcalan and the DSP’s policy on the PKK made it possible for Ecevit and Bahçeli to form a coalition government.
Today, there is the talk of the possible selection of cabinet ministers from the MHP until 2019, when the new system takes effect. For this to happen, the government should resign according to the current constitution, President Erdoğan should assign Binali Yıldırım again to form a government, a coalition protocol should be signed between the AK Party and the MHP, and a coalition government should be formed.
This does not follow previous practices, especially when the AK Party has a big majority in parliament. But it is not impossible. However, the possibility of the MHP undertaking top positions in the bureaucracy is higher than the possibility of it taking ministries.
Still, it can be expected that if the constitutional changes are passed, in the new cabinet that will be formed from non-parliament members after 2019, MHP members could be included the new cabinet.
Meanwhile, I don’t believe that Bahçeli would demand a deputy prime ministerial position or deputy presidential position after 2019. He may want to remain outside and observe MHP members take their places in decision-making mechanisms, concentrating on his own party until the date when the new system goes into effect.