After HDP, AKP sets eyes on MHP votes

After HDP, AKP sets eyes on MHP votes

President Tayyip Erdoğan approved Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s cabinet for Turkey’s first “interim election government” on Aug. 28, 2015.

The government was accepted by Erdoğan after his announcement of the re-election (also a first) date as Nov. 1, after Davutoğlu failed to form a coalition government following the June election, when his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its parliamentary majority. Although such a move has never been implemented by any president before Erdoğan, it was constitutional. Anyway, Erdoğan wanted a fresh vote as he was deeply disappointed by the June 7 result, which complicated his aim of using extensive de facto executive powers under an AK Parti government. Nov. 1 will mark a second chance for both the AK Parti to regain power and for Erdoğan to continue his project.

The interim election government was supposed to include ministers from all parties represented in parliament, according to their number of seats, as well as a number of non-partisan names. However, two opposition parties - the Republican People’s Party (CHP), supposed to be given five seats, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), supposed to be given three names - announced in advance that they would not join the interim government and not be part of what they called Erdoğan’s scenario. The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), despite being the target of all AK Parti arrows since the June 7 election, had said in advance that it would accept the cabinet seat offers.

The HDP taking part in government was something neither Erdoğan nor Davutoğlu wanted. Erdoğan recognized the failure of the AK Parti (and his power projects) in the success of the HDP in the last election. If the HDP had not exceeded the 10 percent threshold to get into parliament with a considerable presence, the AK Parti would have won the election. 

Thanks to the acts of terror resumed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the HDP’s wavering remarks in response - especially at the beginning of them - gave the AK Parti the opportunity to demonize the HDP as the “political extension of the separatist terrorist organization.” But instead of causing a drop in Kurdish voters’ support for the HDP, all recent polls showed the contrary. This is why neither Erdoğan nor Davutoğlu wanted to go to an election in an interim government with the HDP, especially not to hand easy propaganda material to the MHP.

Nationalist Turkish votes, like pious Kurdish votes, are a group that the AK Parti needs to win again after the June 7 erosion.

In order to by-pass binding party decisions, Davutoğlu sent letters to individual MPs to offer positions in the cabinet. No hole emerged in the CHP’s walls, but one crack emerged in the MHP: The party’s Deputy Chairman Tuğrul Türkeş, who is the son of the MHP’s founding father, the legendary leader of the Gray Wolves, Alparslan Türkeş. Devlet Bahçeli was furious about Türkeş’s acceptance, and Türkeş was immediately sent to a disciplinary committee with demands that he be expelled from the party.

But when Davutoğlu announced the interim cabinet, along with Tuğrul Türkeş (who was named a Deputy PM) observers saw another name once was loyal to Alparslan Türkeş’s MHP: Yalçın Topçu, the new Culture and Tourism Minister. Topçu is a renowned figure in right-wing circles in Turkey, having once served as the chairman of the Great Unity Party (BBP), an Islamist split-off from the nationalist MHP.

According to info in the political backstages, Davutoğlu proposed ministries to a number of social democrats and liberals who are not actively affiliated with the CHP at the moment, but none of them accepted. What’s more, Levent Tüzel, a Turkish socialist in the HDP list, also refused to be a minister in the interim government, repeating his criticism of the AK Parti’s Kurdish policy and also taking aim at nepotism and corruption claims.

CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has strongly criticized Davutoğlu, claiming that most of the supposedly “non-partisan” names in the new cabinet were staunch AK Parti supporters, even if they may not be official party members.

One example is a name from academia, the new Family and Social Affairs Minister Ayşe Gürcan, who is a declared AK Parti supporter and who will also be the first ever minister to be included in a Turkish cabinet wearing a headscarf. Kudbettin Arzu (Agriculture Minister) and Ali Rıza Alaboyun (Energy Minister) are both former AK Parti MPs.

So actually, along with the AK Parti and HDP deputies in the cabinet, there are two names, Türkeş and Topçu, who are there to give the message to nationalist Turkish voters that this government is also theirs and the AK Parti is there for them.

Ahead of Nov. 1, it seems that the AK Parti has now set its eyes on MHP voters as well, besides HDP voters.

Will this tactic work? Will the AK Parti manage to achieve the balancing act by attracting both pious Kurdish votes through attacks on the HDP and wooing nationalist Turkish votes by carving up MHP? Will the AK Parti regain its parliamentary majority? Will Erdoğan be able to carry on with his power projections? 

We will have to wait another two months for answers to these questions.