Will the MHP continue to steal votes from the AKP?
The period after the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections has witnessed a chain of very important developments in the fields of economy and foreign policy, which have heavily dominated Turkey’s political agenda.
The crisis between Turkey and the United States over the case of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, Turkish-Russian efforts to avoid a blanket military operation into the Idlib province and the slaughtering of a prominent dissident Saudi journalist by Saudi agents in the Istanbul consulate are just a few of these issues.
In the meantime, however, there have also been some very interesting developments and trends in the Turkish domestic political scene. To this regard, a close look into the dynamics of the ongoing People’s Alliance by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) would be necessary to make predictions on the upcoming local elections.
As can be recalled, the alliance had been formed in early 2018 after MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had announced his party would back President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s nomination for the presidency in return for a legal amendment to secure an alliance between the AKP and the MHP for the parliamentary elections.
The alliance provided Erdoğan what he has long been looking for. He was elected as the first executive president in the first round by 52.6 percent of votes, even though his party had 42.6 percent, 10 points less than his individual success. Meanwhile, the MHP had a surprise performance in the parliamentary polls by attracting 11 percent, despite estimates that it would remain below the 10 percent national threshold.
Studies later showed some AKP voters who were unhappy with governmental policies had decided to vote for the MHP, as they regarded it a safe harbor, since they could not vote for other opposition parties.
It should also be underlined that the radical turn of the AKP towards a more nationalistic stance in recent years has narrowed the differences between the two entities, allowing a kind of electorate transfer depending on the political environment.
The political situation accompanied with further deteriorated economic conditions ahead of March 30, 2019 local polls suggests a similar but even much more complicated trend.
According to some analysts, this is the period in which the discomfort of traditional AKP voters on the government’s performance is highest when compared to an account of 16 years of the ruling party. When the impacts of the worsened economic conditions begin to hit people in the most direct way, the level of this discomfort could even increase and give drastic results for the AKP in municipal elections, they suggest. Therefore, analysts foresee that the AKP would prefer to pursue a rather strong and aggressive rhetoric and policy against the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in a bid to cover up the economic situation and to set another polarizing political line.
However, it could end up with more AKP voters deciding to vote for the MHP in the municipal elections, these analysts estimate. It would be no surprise if the MHP would increase its votes again to above 15 percent, they argue.
To support this prediction, it is necessary to pay attention to recent discussions between the AKP and MHP officials, which have close links with how they see nationalism. The first is about the MHP’s calls for a limited amnesty that would release some leading ultra-nationalist criminals seen as “heroes” among nationalist circles.
The second one is about the ongoing legal discussion on whether our national oath will be read in schools every morning. Bahçeli went furious against leading AKP officials who have harshly slammed a court decision that reinstates the reading of the oath in schools.
Last but not least, senior MHP officials have voiced skepticism over Erdoğan’s visit to Diyarbakır over the weekend with concerns that he could signal a fresh attempt to negotiate peace with the Kurds.
By provoking all these fault lines, the MHP simply puts that it is the only, original and genuine nationalist political party in Turkey with a clear objective to further capitalize this heavily native and national rhetoric produced by the ruling AKP. It hopes that Bahçeli’s policy will oblige the AKP to pledge a number of greater municipal governments to the MHP in local polls.
In any case, the People’s Alliance will need to form a new internal balance after the mayoral elections in the event that the MHP would attract even more votes from the AKP.