Why is Bahçeli doing this?

Why is Bahçeli doing this?

Even though the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, fiercely opposed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) when they proposed the presidential system to the Constitution Conciliation Committee last term, this time he said “There is no harm in asking the nation; AK Party should introduce its proposal.” 
Trying to find possible answers, let us look into the reasons of the AK Party-MHP convergence that became more obvious after the Nov. 1 elections. 

The most sensitive issue for the MHP has been the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). MHP sees the PKK as a separatist terrorist organization and regards this issue as the most important one concerning Turkey’s future. 

Bahçeli picked the fruits of this line on June 7, 2015, elections when he caused his party to make a leap, increasing his votes by more than 2 million and its number of deputies to 80. The essential reason for this leap was the “resolution process.” While the armed struggle against terrorism almost diminished during this period, instead of a permanent solution, it was understood that the PKK was preparing for urban wars; which in turn caused AK Party to lose votes and MHP to gain votes. 

However, the seat allocation in parliament did not allow a government alternative without the HDP being in the coalition, or an outside supporter to the government. Bahçeli made a strategic decision under these conditions and announced the MHP will not take part in a HDP or HDP-supported coalition.  

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and AK Party executives analyzed the effect of the resolution process on the election results, PKK’s war preparations, developments in Syria and made a U-turn in their PKK policies, which altogether left a constricted field of opposition for the MHP. The AK Party adopted MHP’s former policies against the PKK in their Nov. 1 election campaign and succeeded in this. 

Another policy the AK Party switched is their Syria-Iraq policy. This policy also is in harmony with MHP’s policies. In this respect too, MHP’s field of opposition shrank. 

Another important factor in terms of Bahçeli and the MHP is FETÖ (the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) factor. The MHP blames FETÖ for its election failure and the inner party opposition. His anti-FETÖ stance strengthened their convergence with the ruling party. 

The active player in the two parties’ convergence is the AK Party. It is the AK Party that changed its PKK policies, similarly changing their Syrian policy to a line that is supported by MHP. These maneuvers of the AK Party are the basics of the convergence. Bahçeli’s strong stance after the July 15 coup attempt and the anti-FETÖ policy he adopted to counter the internal opposition in his party have strengthened this closeness. 

In this political picture, where should Bahçeli’s discourse stand? The one where he implied that a de facto presidential system was being conducted, saying “Either abandon this practice or bring your proposal to parliament; there is no harm in asking the nation.” Does this initiative mean Bahçeli would support the presidential system when it is brought to the parliament and during a possible referendum? After MHP spokesmen said “yes” in parliament and “no” in referendum pointing out to securing 330 seats, Bahçeli rebutted them in a speech on Oct. 26, reiterating his “They should submit their proposal” argument. 

It is true that Bahçeli’s discourse has encouraged the AK Party, which will be tried in parliament. In the constitution they will propose to take care of MHP sensitivities at utmost. However, it is too early to say that the result is a “guaranteed” one. It is possible for the AK Party to reach the referendum with 330 votes or to remain under this and bury the presidential system project for a while. The key to this is in the hands of the MHP.