Turkey’s democratic reforms must be genuine despite MHP’s role

Turkey’s democratic reforms must be genuine despite MHP’s role

Turkey enters a new era during which it will prioritize reforming the economy and the judicial system, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed on Nov. 11 in his first assessment following a change in the economic management. He meant to say that the short-term and medium-term measures will be initiated by the government in a bid to address the long-standing problems in the economy and justice. In his statement on Nov. 14, he added democracy to the list of areas in which the government will start a brand new mobilization.

On the economy, he signaled impending structural reforms as the government will abide by the free market rules and prioritize price stability, financial stability and macroeconomic stability.

However, regarding the rule of law and democracy, he did not provide details. On judicial reforms, President Erdoğan stressed that the government would continue to work on reforms following two judicial reform packages introduced in the past year. Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül hinted that his ministry would accelerate its works on the Human Rights Action Plan in a bid to address the problem stemming from justice.

It’s not sure to what extent this work can be a remedy to Turkey’s acute deficiencies in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Turkey’s current state in these spheres requires some very radical steps both at the legislation and implementation level. Beyond, a change in the mindset is also inevitable, as many would agree.

There are, however, tougher problems in front of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) ambitions to reform democracy and justice. An ongoing alliance between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has long ago founded on the denunciation of the calls for reinstating democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.


Let’s recall that the People Alliance between the AKP and MHP were launched soon after the July 2016 coup attempt by the Fethullahist Terror Organization. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had offered his support to President Erdoğan’s long-term plan to shift the parliamentary system into an executive presidential one.

Thanks to Bahçeli’s support, the substantial constitutional amendments were approved in 2017, and Erdoğan was elected as the president with a narrow margin in June 2018. The AKP still has to rely on the seats that the MHP occupies at the Parliament as it has no parliamentary majority.

Of course, It is not a one-way relationship. It will be very difficult for the MHP to pass the 10 percent electoral threshold in the next elections and the continuation of the alliance is of vital importance for Bahçeli.

Despite some minor issues, the People Alliance has so far shown resilience in keeping harmonious cooperation. Good dialogue between Erdoğan and Bahçeli and their ultimate leadership in the respective political parties played an important role so far. It is therefore questionable to what extent President Erdoğan would risk this dialogue by fostering democracy through reforms.

In the case he would promote a solid and progressive reform package that would reverse the democratic picture and free for example former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and activist Osman Kavala, it would be indispensable that he would lose Bahçeli’s support. As the parliamentary composition grants the MHP with a kingmaker role, going to polls much before 2023 will just be between the two lips of Bahçeli.

On the other hand, if he opts for a package made of symbolic democratic moves, it will not yield any positive result neither for the economy nor for the country’s image in the world. That can make life much more difficult for the AKP government if it cannot stop further deterioration of the economy.

This equation between the AKP and the MHP will determine the future moves of the AKP government as well as the scope, the nature and the content of the reforms voiced by President Erdoğan.