How long can the AKP-MHP alliance last?

How long can the AKP-MHP alliance last?

On April 16, a narrow win in a key referendum allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to overhaul the Turkish governance system into an executive-presidency model.

The AKP’s main ally both during the parliamentary voting process and in the referendum was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The AKP-MHP alliance is still in place, with MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli becoming even more vocal in defending Erdoğan than many AKP officials on certain issues.

Bahçeli announced his support to the AKP’s efforts to amend the country’s constitution on Nov. 11, 2016, nearly three months after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. His argument was that the coup had proved the need for a stronger system to avoid future coup attempts or interventions.

However, many in Ankara had believed that Bahçeli’s main objectives were to save his MHP in future elections, as the vote of the MHP is in constant decline, to secure his kingmaker role and perhaps to be appointed as a vice president after the next presidential elections, if Erdoğan wins.

In this regard, an ongoing discussion behind closed doors in Ankara gains importance. The government needs to amend two key laws, the Election Code and Political Parties Code, in line with the constitutional amendments to increase the number of MPs from the current 550 to 600 and lower the candidacy age to 18.

In a statement early November, Bahçeli said the current 10 percent electoral threshold was too high for the Turkish democratic system and needs to be reduced to a reasonable level. It was quite surprising to hear this particularly from Bahçeli, who was a staunch defender of this threshold in order to keep Kurdish political parties out of parliament.

Two things seemingly prompted this change on Bahçeli’s side: First, the fact that his MHP risks remaining under the threshold, and second, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will have no difficulty in entering parliament in the next elections.

But Bahçeli was not given the green light from the AKP on lowering the threshold. Instead, he was offered a change in the Political Parties Code so that pre-election alliances would be allowed. The MHP leader expressed his openness in negotiating the modalities of such an alliance with the AKP, but detailed studies conducted at the AKP headquarters have proven that pre-election alliances would work more to the advantage of opposition groups than the AKP-MHP coalition.

The reason for this argument is that such permission will allow small parties, like the Felicity Party (SP) and the Great Union Party (BBP), to join larger opposition parties, eventually increasing the number of seats they would get in parliament. Given the “No” bloc in the April referendum garnered 48.6 percent of the votes, pre-election alliance will allow opposition groups to consolidate even more.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Dec. 18 that all these laws need to be amended by the end of March 2018, signaling that there will still be some time to draft them through consultations with the MHP.

The result of these works will sure say a lot about what one should expect about the sustainability of the AKP-MHP coalition. The April referendum indicated that MHP voters are no longer following the party leadership line on crucial issues. A similar reaction can also be seen during the presidential elections in which Erdoğan must secure at least 50 percent plus one vote.

So, this delicacy might prompt questions on how long a coalition with Bahçeli would continue. As there are still two years ahead of the elections – if no early elections are held – will Erdoğan re-think of abandoning his partnership with the MHP and instead adopt a new chapter in ties with the Kurds?

It’s too early to find solid answers to these questions but political developments in the first quarter of 2018 will give strong projections.