Is the AKP using the MHP as leverage to corner the CHP?

Is the AKP using the MHP as leverage to corner the CHP?

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım repeated on Nov. 1 that his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is keen to pass constitutional changes through cooperation with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but if the CHP is hesitant they will press ahead anyway.

The obvious implication of this is an AK Parti-MHP cooperation for shifting from a parliamentary to an executive presidential regime, as targeted by President Tayyip Erdoğan.

The sine qua non condition for MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli is to bring back the death penalty to the constitution. 

That could finally cut off Turkey’s already weakened links with the European Union, and sever its ties with the Council of Europe.

This would be least of Bahçeli’s concerns. Indeed, he might even be in favor of such a result, as he is a staunch isolationist. Bahçeli’s main aim is to reinstate the death penalty as a deterrent factor in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had escaped execution after he was arrested and sentenced to death back in 1999, when Bahçeli was a coalition partner. As capital punishment was abolished when Bahçeli was in government, it has ever since turned into a constant political trauma for him.

Yıldırım said on Nov. 1, right after Bahçeli’s address in parliament, that the draft the government is working on would bring back capital punishment under limited conditions and would not be retroactively valid for past cases. It would therefore not be applicable for Öcalan.

Criticizing Bahçeli for getting into a “death penalty-presidency” bargain with the AK Parti (as AK Parti seats alone are not enough to take a constitutional draft to a referendum), CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu asked the MHP leader whether he was aware that Öcalan is also in favor of the executive presidential system.

What the AK Parti is actually trying to do is to force the CHP to cooperate for a presidential constitution (which the CHP is against), or be regarded as being in the same ranks as the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

The government line is that the HDP is a legal extension of the PKK, and by asking questions about arrested HDP politicians the CHP could well be regarded as supporting them and encouraging terrorism.

On Oct. 29, CHP Deputy Chair Bülent Tezcan was shot and wounded in the western town of Aydın by a criminal who claimed that he staged the attack because he was against the CHP’s tolerance for the HDP.
The attack followed another one by the PKK targeting Kılıçdaroğlu’s motorcade near the northeastern town of Artvin on Aug. 25.

The government immediately condemned the attacks, and Kılıçdaroğlu warned the government about the possible continuation of similar attacks.

The CHP is apparently aware of the AKP’s attempts to corner it into a binary choice: Either cooperation on the presidency or be denounced together with the HDP.

This dynamic is just one more factor in the steady escalation of tension in Turkish politics.