The meaning of the election ‘alliance’ move in Turkey
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) submitted a joint draft to parliament on Feb. 21 for 26 changes to four articles of Turkey’s laws to allow election alliances in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The two parties partnered up for the April 2017 referendum on constitutional changes, giving all executive power to the presidency and allowing the president to keep their position as chair of a party.
After submitting the draft to parliament, Mustafa Şentop of the AK Parti said in a joint press conference with his MHP colleagues that the proposed changes should be considered together with the new administrative system introduced with the 2017 referendum.
The new executive presidential system stipulates that the president will be elected in a (maximum) two-round election. In order to be elected in the first round a candidate must win 50 percent plus 1 vote.
President Tayyip Erdoğan wants to get re-elected in the November 2019 election, in which the first round will be held together with the parliamentary election. Erdoğan also wants to maintain the AK Parti’s dominant position in parliament in order to issue laws without difficulty.
The 2017 referendum showed that the 2019 elections may not be a slam dunk case for Erdoğan. The “yes” votes in the referendum for Erdoğan’s empowered presidency did not win a landslide – only winning 51.4 percent of the votes - despite the MHP’s support for the AK Parti and amid considerable opposition objections about vote counting irregularities.
The referendum results also showed that “No” votes prevailed in most of the big cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, two AK Parti strongholds. It is not a coincidence that the AK Parti mayors of the two country-size cities have resigned following demands by the AK Parti headquarters. It seems clear that if Erdoğan and the AK Parti headquarters believed they could win the presidential election and maintain their parliamentary position by themselves, they would not have opted to go into an alliance with the MHP.
In contrast, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli was eager to enter such an alliance after seeing the depth of the split in his party in the referendum vote. With the recent foundation of the İYİ (Good) Party, mainly due to splits from the MHP, it may be difficult for Bahçeli to get the MHP above the national threshold of 10 percent in the elections and thus get into parliament. Bahçeli therefore successfully used Erdoğan’s need for 50 percent to convince him to enter an alliance. In practical terms, once getting elected through the alliance method without worrying about the 10 percent hurdle the MHP’s deputies will be able to set up their own group in parliament.
So there are two key factors underpinning the alliance draft, which the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has slammed as a “one-man coalition,” and which is likely to form a strong conservative/nationalist front in Turkish politics in the coming period:
1- Getting Erdoğan re-elected.
2- Helping the MHP get into parliament.