MHP faces AK Parti impasse on immunities

MHP faces AK Parti impasse on immunities

If there is one political entity to benefit from the turmoil within the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) it is Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). That actually means the benefit of President Tayyip Erdoğan, after Prime Minister and AK Party Chair Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that he would step down in a snap party congress on May 22.

The past weekend was exceptionally troubling for MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. Four candidates who want to run against him tried to gather on May 15 at the extraordinary congress site allocated by a committee of trustees appointed by a court. But another court had annulled that allocation. In fact there are four separate court rulings annulling each other, showing the level of politicization of the Turkish judicial system. The final say of the High Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) on the congress is still awaited, and when Bahçeli’s challengers – namely (the most prominent) Meral Akşener, Koray Aydın, Ümit Özdağ and Sinan Oğan - went to the site of the extraordinary congress, they were blocked by the Ankara police force. 

An in-house party struggle triggered by an election disappointment on Nov. 1, 2015 elections thus turned into street tension between opposition factions and the police. 

The MHP’s election disappointment came after Erdoğan moved to strike back massively following the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) resumption of acts of terror, ending the three-year dialogue process with the government. As a result of that anti-PKK campaign, the MHP’s nationalist grassroots supporters - some of whom shifted to the AK Parti in former elections but returned to the MHP in the June 7 election - shifted back to the AK Parti. Apparently many thought that the Islamic-oriented AK Parti now better represented Turkish nationalism. The result of the Nov. 1, 2015 election saw the MHP win even fewer parliamentary deputies than the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the party is now in serious leadership problems.

Two important political thresholds could occur between now and the AK Parti congress scheduled on May 22.

One is the possible Yargıtay ruling on the MHP extraordinary congress. If the Yargıtay rules that no extraordinary congress is needed it would be a relief for Bahçeli. The other possible threshold is the voting in parliament to lift the immunities of a number of MPs in order to take them to court. The move applies to all parties, but it actually targets the HDP.

The AK Parti, (in another words, Erdoğan), needs at least 330 votes (out of a total of 550) to be able to take the lifting of immunities to a referendum. That is 14 votes short of the AK Parti’s total seats in parliament. If the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) opts to not attend the vote, the AK Parti could be dependent on votes coming from a split within the MHP to push over the 330 line.

Bahçeli has already winked at the AK Parti over giving the MHP’s support. Whispers in the political backstage now even talk about a coalition between the AK Parti and the MHP in order for Erdoğan to secure a presidential referendum, for immunities to be lifted against HDP deputies, and for harsher policies to be applied against Kurdish secessionism. A more realistic scenario might be for Bahçeli’s MHP to vote in favor of the immunities being lifted and to hope to be saved by a Supreme Court ruling. 

The MHP is clearly facing an AK Parti impasse but the AK Parti is also running against time, with the vote on immunities due to take place in the coming days.