A strong right-wing alliance on its way in Turkey

A strong right-wing alliance on its way in Turkey

I was recently having an informal chat with an important name from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) together with a number of colleagues.

“When are you going to import the MHP?” I asked half-jokingly, referring to the current close cooperation between the AK Parti and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) over the constitutional shift to an executive presidential system, as targeted by President Tayyip Erdoğan.

I was expecting a cool answer pouring cold water on the suggestion and refuting jokes about political partners. But no, the experienced politician responded with a “you got me” smile on his face. He replied with another question, asking “Isn’t that question a bit late?”

Here is the dialogue that followed:

- Could the partnership go as far as a merger under a single roof with a new name?

- I’m not sure about that. But do you think that’s even necessary?

- What do you mean?

- Well, it seems that we [AK Parti] can already do whatever we want together with [the MHP].

- So you will make them share responsibility for every step you take, and vice versa? 

- I believe they [MHP] will be relying on us in almost every move they make.

- And if they object to any of your projects, they would risk canceling all the support they have been giving you [AK Parti]? 

- (More smiles)

- Can your cooperation be extended from the constitutional shift referendum to parliamentary elections?
- Why not? I wouldn’t rule that out.

This informal chat indicates that a closer and longer range AK Parti-MHP alliance has already been internalized as an approaching possibility on the political horizon.

Just hours after this chat, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s words to private broadcaster Fox TV-Turkey about the possibility of taking ministers from the MHP to the AK Parti government hit the halls of parliament. That would practically amount to a coalition without the formal need for it.

On the same day, Jan. 18, social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu visited MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli to (in vain) “remind him once again” that the presidential model would lead to “one-man rule in a party-state” Bahçeli had already stated before the meeting that he had said everything he needed to, and would remain in favor of the shift.

The next day, Yıldırım added to his remarks on bringing MHP ministers into the cabinet, saying that in the referendum there would be the AK Parti and the MHP on one side for a “stronger Turkey under the presidential system,” while on the other side there would be the CHP and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). That is a smart move to give a subliminal message to voters, since the AK Parti denounces the HDP as the legal extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization by law, despite the fact that the objections of the CHP and the HDP against the presidential system differ in motivation, reasoning and policy.

You can read more from Gizem Karakuş’s story in today’s Hürriyet Daily News about how the AK Parti has been planning to carry out a joint referendum campaign with the MHP.

What Prime Minister Yıldırım is pointing to could be the largest front in Turkey’s political system, bringing Islamist, conservative, Turkish nationalist, and center-right voters under one roof.

Turkey has experienced a number of right-wing coalitions in the past, notably the three-party “Nationalist Front” coalitions in the second half of the 1970s between center-right, Islamist and Turkish nationalist parties. However, no such coalition was seen after the 1980 military coup. There was only a brief center-right-Islamist coalition in 1996-97 called “Refah-Yol,” which was brought to an end with resignations due to pressure from the military and judicial establishment of the time, labelled the “post-modern coup.” 

If what Yıldırım is pointing to actually happens, an unnamed coalition will be formed incorporating almost all of Turkey’s right-wing tendencies, in the still heated post-July 2016 coup attempt political atmosphere.

The rise of the right in such a form paralels the rise of the right in Europe and elswhere, in line with global tendencies. It also opens up new windows for a new set of political uncertainities.