The AKP-MHP alliance is a sign of weakness
The alliance between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is more of a reflection of weakness than of strength on both parties’ sides.
It is obvious why the MHP would want to enter such an alliance. Its support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the April 2017 constitutional referendum had angered many of its grassroots supporters.
They are unhappy MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has facilitated Erdoğan’s efforts to turn Turkey into a presidential system—the key subject of the April referendum—so the “leader” can call all of the shots without any system of checks and balances and parliament is relegated to the background.
This displeasure has also spawned the İYİ (Good) Party, headed by Meral Akşener, who is trying to appeal to those who have turned against Bahçeli. Many analysts have said Bahçeli has effectively committed political suicide by becoming Erdoğan’s political facilitator.
By concretizing the MHP’s alliance with the AKP, Bahçeli clearly aims to secure a place for himself and his party under the new system of government that will replace Turkey’s current parliamentary system.
The new system, which was accepted in the controversial April referendum in 2017, comes into force after the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The MHP’s alliance with the AKP could mean a deputy presidency for Bahçeli and some ministries for members of his party. So for Bahçeli, this whole exercise is predicated on efforts to secure his and his party’s political survival.
But why would the AKP, who has won a succession of landslide victories since it came to power in November 2002, want such an alliance if it had felt its position in the lead-up to the 2019 elections was strong? No party would do this unless it had to.
The results of the referendum in 2017 might hold the answer to this question. Erdoğan and the AKP won that referendum, but not with the margin they would have liked. The “no” votes received 48.6 percent, as Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir said “no” to Erdoğan’s constitutional chances.
The 51.4 percent that Erdoğan received in the referendum might be a good result for parliamentary elections, but not for presidential elections where the key contender wants a clear majority to be able to claim a strong mandate to rule.
If the presidential elections do not produce this—even though Erdoğan is widely expected to win since he controls all the cards—he will not be able to claim he is the president of the nation because he will have run as the leader of the AKP and not an independent candidate who is above party politics.
Many will say he is the president of his supporters only, which is the case today. Put simply, Erdoğan needs to win at least 55 percent in 2019 to be able claim he represents an overwhelming majority of the nation.
This is why he needs the MHP and why, as many argue, he has been busy whipping up nationalist sentiments. This however, as mentioned in the beginning, is a sign of weakness and not of strength.