Convention time at MHP

Convention time at MHP

For the first time in 15 years of almost unchallenged party leadership Devlet Bahçeli will face a serious contender at the 10th ordinary convention of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which will be held this Sunday. Former Public Works minister Koray Aydın, with the support of a coalition of groups unhappy with what they call Bahçeli’s “pacifist” leadership are posing a serious challenge to the incumbent leader. Yet, Aydın is stressing he would stick to Bahçeli’s policy of keeping MHP youth away from the streets.

Unlike previous conventions where opponents were not able to freely participate and contest, but were barred from the convention hall, beaten up or even had their membership in the party dropped, this year there appears to be a democratic race. Opponents were even allowed to use facilities at party headquarters for their gatherings. Contrary to the expectations of many analysts though only days are left until the crucial convention, there has been almost no confrontation, excluding the exchange of some verbal duels, between Bahçeli and Aydın and their supporters.

Aydın has been campaigning with the “Change now” slogan, accusing Bahçeli of being contented with 10-15 percent of the national vote for the past 15 years and not having the vision demand of coming to power alone. Bahçeli, on the other hand, is going to the convention confident of himself and the stability in leadership he has achieved.

Though not official, a below-the-belt war is continuing between the two candidates. Aydın was accused of mass corruption in distributing quake aid to victims of the 1999 deadly quake. A parliamentary inquiry sent him to the Supreme Court where he was acquitted and with the June 12, 2011 elections returned to active politics as Trabzon deputy of his party.

Over the years Aydın has become an adversary of Bahçeli, but he was a close aid of the incumbent MHP leader for many years, even serving under him as party secretary-general or as minister in the last coalition government headed by late Bülent Ecevit. Yet, Aydın represents a more proactive nationalist wing of the party and is supported by groups complaining the MHP has become some sort of a “secret coalition partner” of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Will he succeed in toppling Bahçeli? If he becomes leader will he follow a tougher opposition line? It might be a hint to look at the assessments of Bahçeli and Aydın to the Oct. 29 standoff between the AKP and the main opposition republican People’s Party (CHP). While Bahçeli has tried to equally blame the two parties for the tension unfitting the meaning of the Republic Day, Aydın squarely placed the responsibility on the anti-democratic attitudes of the government.

On the Kurdish issue, in a recent interview, Aydın stressed that like Bahçeli he would stick to the teaching of the late Alpaslan Türkeş, who said that “Turks are as Kurd as Kurds and Kurds are as Turk as Turks.”