Is AKP winking at MHP for presidency alla Erdoğan?

Is AKP winking at MHP for presidency alla Erdoğan?

It was interesting to see President Tayyip Erdoğan repeating his “400 deputy” target in Diyarbakır over the weekend in order to secure a new constitution, based on a strong presidency with fewer checks and balances.

Erdoğan had set this target of getting 400 of 550 seats in parliament some months ago, but he later retreated to 335. It was understood that it was practically impossible for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to achieve this (in 2011, with 50 percent support, it could only get 326 seats), so Erdoğan decided to lower the target to 335, which is five seats higher than the lower limit (330) needed to take a constitutional amendment to a referendum.

That change coincided with a statement from Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who categorically stated that his party would never let Erdoğan become the strong-president he wants to be. That was partly an answer to speculation, as many thought that because of the dialogue process between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political solution to the Kurdish problem, in which the HDP is working as a facilitator, a bargain could be made after the June 7 elections.

Then something else happened and Erdoğan shifted back to the “400 deputy” target, but with an added nuance. He started to imply that all of those deputies did not have to be from the AK Parti. In his Diyarbakır speech, he was a bit clearer, saying that he did not necessarily even mean the AK Parti.
Erdoğan’s 400 target actually means crossing the 367-seat limit in parliament after the election. This is the minimum number of seats needed to change the constitution in parliament without the need for a referendum.

The HDP has promised its voters that it would not bargain with the AK Parti over Erdoğan’s strong-presidency, even if it manages to exceed the unfair 10 percent threshold in order to get into parliament. 
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has already declared that his party would resist Erdoğan’s attempt to secure super powers.

That leaves the only remaining option to be possible cooperation with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in parliament after the elections.

To be frank, MHP head Devlet Bahçeli used bitter words such as “tyranny” against Erdoğan’s super-presidency target, during the speech he gave on May 3 to announce the MHP’s election manifesto. Bahçeli also said he believed that “the Turkish nation would not approve a new chair for Erdoğan” in the June 7 election.

However, it is interesting that both Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have been very careful in recent weeks to not hit the MHP too much, sparing it in their criticism of the opposition parties. When Davutoğlu’s audience on May 2 in Osmaniye, Bahçeli’s hometown near the Syrian border, booed Bahçeli, Davutoğlu stopped them. This is something he never did for either Kılıçdaroğlu or Demirtaş. On May 4 in Siirt, Erdoğan hit very hard at both the CHP and the HDP over their religious believes, with a Quran in his hand. But he did not have a word for the MHP. 

It is also interesting to observe that since Erdoğan shifted back to his 400 target, both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are trying to distance themselves from their dialogue partner the HDP, and the Kurdish issue altogether. They have been highlighting the common denominator between Turks and Kurds as Islam, rather than the dialogue process. Anything other than highlighting the ethnic identity of Kurds could be aiming to secure extra points in the eyes of Bahçeli’s supporters.

In the political backstage of Ankara, many people recall the MHP’s support in parliament in 2007 in electing Abdullah Gül as president (when the presidential election was still conducted in parliament). They also point out certain names like Durmuş Yılmaz for example, the former governor of the Central Bank, who became Gül’s chief economy advisor and who is now an MHP candidate for the June 7 elections. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former presidential candidate who was supported by the MHP and the CHP last year, is also now an MHP candidate. Before that campaign, he was elected as the secretary general of the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC), with the support of AK Parti governments. He could therefore also be a channel between the two parties.

There is no green light yet on the MHP side for bargaining after the elections over a presidency alla Erdoğan. But there are enough indications to prompt the question of whether the AK Parti is winking at them.