Why did MHP head Bahçeli restart the presidential debate?

Why did MHP head Bahçeli restart the presidential debate?

Turkey is going through a historically important process. Turkish troops are in both Iraq and Syria, actively fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside and outside Turkey, and its offshoot the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Turkish leaders often talk about resorting to military means on these fronts in order to maintain self-defense, in line with the recently declared “pre-emptive security doctrine.”

Turkey is engaged in serious rows with both the Iraqi government and the Syrian regime over a number of different issues. It also accuses Iran of fueling sectarian conflicts across the Middle East. All this is happening while Ankara’s long-standing alliance with the United States is in a process of cracking and its relationship with the entire Western bloc does not promise much for sound cooperation. 

The entire country is on alert against further potential terror attacks either from the PKK or ISIL, amid concerns that these two bloody terror organizations may widen the scope of their attacks in a bid for revenge. 

What’s more, it has been only three months since supporters of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen within the state attempted to overthrow the government through a coup on July 15. Turkey is still in a state of emergency and extraordinary measures are still in place as the government pursues the coup plotters. The economy is sounding new alarms every day and the Turkish Lira remains weak against the U.S. dollar and the euro. 

It is in these parlous circumstances that Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli opted to revive the long-standing discussion on whether Turkey should shift to an executive presidential system of government. First, he complained about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan breaching the constitution and bringing about a de facto system, but he later proposed a referendum to let the people decide whether this de facto implementation should be made legal. 

Further complicating Bahçeli’s situation, he underlined that his party is in favor of the parliamentary system but has to see the government’s proposal before deciding how it will vote. However, the point is that the government will be introducing a model of the presidential system that Bahçeli has already rejected. 

The question now being asked is why Bahçeli has taken such a step and brought this issue to the agenda for the government? A reporter asked him this question on Oct. 25. His answer was sharp: “You will see why we did so in the coming days. Those who defend the current de facto situation are those who are in favor of a second coup attempt wave. You will see this in the coming days.”   

In fact, we have not heard such a bold explanation even from Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials, government members, or President Erdoğan himself. Bahçeli is almost suggesting that those who are not in favor of a system change will be on the side of coup plotters. He is thus carrying the flag even further than his AKP fellows.

It is highly probable that Bahçeli’s formulation will also be used by the ruling party in the coming days and weeks, in order to better use the opportunity they have found in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt. 

Bahçeli, a long-term strongman of the Turkish establishment, is using this environment for another political figure who shares his vision. For Bahçeli, whose sole motivation is to constantly make sure that the Turkish Republic remains united against all kinds of enemies, it is not important whether that aim is achieved through a parliamentary or presidential system.