How will Akşener’s new party affect politics?

How will Akşener’s new party affect politics?

Although there are over two years until the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019, polls and forecasts about who will run against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are dominating the political agenda in Turkey. 

Erdoğan has already rolled up his sleeves, tidying up the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) headquarters and provincial organizations right after officially returning to the party as chairman after a three-year hiatus. He spent last week in the Black Sea region, where he strongly urged all his party fellows that the 2019 elections will not be easy. 

The president wants a substantial reshuffle in the AKP’s provincial and district organizations, as he realizes that the AKP he is chairing now is not the same party he left in 2014. As he made clear in his statements, he will push his entire party organization, youth branches, women’s branches and mayors to do more for the upcoming period or to leave their positions to others if they feel tired or exhausted. His plan is to accomplish this regeneration of the AKP by the end of this year. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has also been very active since the April referendum, which resulted in a very narrow win for the AKP-led constitutional amendments. Leading the “no” campaign, which garnered 48.6 percent of the vote, the CHP will surely accelerate its efforts to try to win the upcoming twin elections. 

The arrest of CHP Istanbul deputy Enis Berberoğlu pushed CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to launch his historic “justice march” from the capital Ankara to Istanbul. He is now preparing to hold a massive congress in late August to revisit the systematic and institutional justice system problem of Turkey. He will continue to base his rhetoric on democratic deficiencies and the continued crackdown on opposition groups, academics, journalists and activists. 

Today’s political picture, therefore, displays two main blocks led by the AKP and the CHP, with the two other parties at parliament, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), remaining in the background. 

However, this equation might be broken very soon with the foundation of a new political party under the leadership of Meral Akşener, a veteran female politician who has been in politics since mid-1990s. 

According to Cihan Paçacı, a close aide of Akşener and former secretary-general of the MHP, Akşener’s party will be formed at the end of October. A number of former MHP figures who have parted ways with its leader Devlet Bahçeli will be among the founders of this party. The new entity will not aim to be an alternative to the MHP but rather be a center-right party that embraces a wider segment of society. 

While being loyal to republican values, the party will also understand the conservative realities of the Turkish people while opening its doors to every political leaning, according to Paçacı. “The main objective of the new party will be to change today’s political picture through the first election,” he told daily Hürriyet last week. 

According to political analysts in Ankara, the new party could attract votes not only from the MHP but also from traditional CHP and AKP voters. This could completely reverse the equation in the 2019 election. It is believed that Akşener’s party would have no 10 percent threshold problem for the parliamentary elections, while her positive contribution to the “No” block in the April referendum showed that she could bring about difficult days for Erdoğan’s presidential bid. 

This is why there are speculations that the elections will be moved to an earlier date, for example to mid-2018, in order to prevent the reinforcement of Akşener’s party and to keep her unprepared for polls.  

However, there is another more important aspect to this new political party. Akşener’s decision to form a new political party came after she found herself prevented from challenging Bahçeli’s leadership of the MHP. Her efforts to hold an extraordinary convention to oust Bahçeli fell short in 2016, with a series of court decisions coming to Bahçeli’s aid. Akşener and her aides saw this blockage as an intervention by the government to stop the defeat of Bahçeli in the MHP. 

That is why there are concerns about new moves to stop the formation of the party, based on heavy accusations from the government against Akşener, alleging she has links to members of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ). MHP leader Bahçeli has long voiced such accusations against her and other former members of the MHP, and there is no doubt that he will bring them back to the agenda in the coming weeks and months. 

Clearly, the coming months will introduce important developments for Turkish politics and for the upcoming elections.