Turkish politics signal a new balance as AKP, MHP part ways
Although all eyes were on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who spoke at his Justice and Development Party (AKP) group in parliament on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Oct 23, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli managed to steal the attention on the president and once again successfully diverted the focus in domestic politics.
Following weeks of tension between the two parties, allies of the People’s Alliance in early 2018, MHP chair Bahçeli announced that his party will no longer seek an alliance with the AKP for the local elections slated for late March 2019.
In a statement early September, Bahçeli had in fact made a gesture to his party’s partner by announcing that his party will not present a candidate for the Istanbul mayoral post so that the AKP could win Turkey’s largest city in a much easier way.
Erdoğan had no option but to accept Bahçeli’s salvo while drawing a cautious political line in order not to endanger the existence of the People’s Alliance.
Both Erdoğan and Bahçeli, upon questions of reporters, stressed that the decision was only about the local polls and will not affect the continuation of the People’s Alliance.
This turbulence in ties between the AKP and the MHP will bring about some important consequences in regards to both the local elections and the fragile arithmetic composition of parliament.
As for the local elections in Turkey, it should be kept in mind that these are candidate-centered elections and the profile and the quality of the nominees matter in many cases.
Therefore, the strategies of the political parties differ in each and every constituency depending on the rivals’ candidates.
As can be recalled, Bahçeli had pledged that his party will not present a candidate for Istanbul in a bid to support the AKP’s nominee. With the latest decision, it’s highly probable that the MHP will also make a nomination for Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with a population of around 15 million, where a tough competition between the parties will surely take place. Ankara is no different.
Although it is too early to predict any outcome especially in the absence of officially announced candidates, the appetite of the opposition to win these two big cities has surely been increased after the AKP-MHP breakup.
There are some public opinion surveys which suggest that the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) defeated presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, would have a big chance in winning Istanbul in the event that he would be presented as a candidate. Plus, there are unofficial talks between the CHP and İYİ (Good) Party for a limited partnership in the local polls, particularly for Istanbul and Ankara.
In the 2014 local elections, the AKP gained 47 percent of votes, whereas the CHP had 40 percent and the MHP only 4 percent. However, economic and political conditions of today make it much more difficult for the AKP, which would even desperately need 4 percent of votes of the MHP.
Researchers suggest İnce’s candidacy would, therefore, create a lot of difficulties for the AKP. No doubt that, the big loser of the June 24 elections, the CHP will play all its cards to at least compensate its loss by winning Istanbul. It remains to be seen whether they can form a partnership with İYİ Party.
The implications of the AKP-MHP breakup for local polls would also be seen in many other constituencies, depending on the candidates.
This recent tension between the two partners would also affect the parliamentary works. The June 24 polls were a failure for the AKP in terms of securing a comfortable majority. Having garnered 42.6 percent of the votes, the AKP now has 290 seats, 11 fewer than the required majority. In practical terms, a compromise between the four opposition parties can create unwanted legislations in parliament on different issues. Plus, the ruling party risks losing its control in many of the parliamentary commissions.
The AKP, therefore, still needs the support of the MHP in parliament. However, the MHP also has reasons to extend the alliance. It’s well aware that the İYİ Party, with its 40 seats, constitutes a very desirable future partner of the AKP in case of the collapse of the alliance.
It’s not by chance that both Erdoğan and Bahçeli speak in favor of the continuation of the alliance although today’s political environment complicates this togetherness. That could lead to predictions that both leaders will prefer to keep the status quo until the local elections, if they do not declare the end of their alliance before, with a shared belief that this forced relationship cannot go forever. A new balance in Turkish politics will surely emerge in the coming period.