Turkey: Toward a third ‘Nationalist Front’ government

Turkey: Toward a third ‘Nationalist Front’ government

Turkey experienced a “nationalist front government” twice in its history. Both were led by the charismatic conservative leader of the time, Süleyman Demirel.  Facing a rise in left-orientated Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) votes, leaders of right-wing politics such as Demirel, Alparslan Türkeş, Necmettin Erbakan and Turhan Feyzioğlu got together to form a coalition on March 1975.

During the Cold War, traditionalist rhetoric constantly asserted that the CHP sponsored “Muscovites” and “reds,” thereby posing a serious danger to Turkey’s national interests. As the CHP’s votes began to rise by 1973 and after a disastrous coalition attempt between the CHP’s Bülent Ecevit and Erbakan, Turkey entered into a period of intense instability. This is when Demirel assumed responsibility. He called upon all right-wing movements in the Parliament and formed the first “Nationalist Front Government.” Conservative-democrats, nationalists, Islamists and republicans assembled their respective forces under one single political umbrella, aiming at countering the “threat” of communism that the CHP embodied. The second “Nationalist Front Government,” on the other hand, was formed in 1977 and lasted until 1978.  

In this respect, Turkey is no stranger to a somewhat “national union” tradition, practiced within the right-wing entourage. Loyal to deep-rooted habits in right-wing politics, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is trying today to build a brand-new nationalist front along with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), in order to counter vital threats to Turkey’s existence, such as the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Could a third National Front Government be established in Turkey in the coming weeks and months? The scenario is more than plausible.

Bahçeli was on the edge of confronting potential chaos in his party before the coup attempt of July 15. Today, he’s the pivot figure on the Turkish political scene. For the first time in a decade, it’s not Erdoğan who sets the tone in Turkey. Bahçeli is reshaping Turkish politics. While many analysts claim that Bahçeli is becoming a mere satellite of the AK Party, I think it’s the quite opposite.

Bahçeli is the one who brought up issues such as the restoration of the struggle against the PKK, the restoration of the death penalty and the referendum on switching Turkey’s regime to a presidential system.

On all these topics, it’s only after Bahçeli’s green light that the AK Party managed to activate its own political agenda. Even if the MHP is currently the smallest party represented in parliament, its capabilities to define and dominate the national political agenda are greater than any other.

We can expect, in the near future, a third Nationalist Front Government to be proclaimed in Turkey. This is probably why Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş called upon the CHP before being arrested, to create a similar political alliance on the left side of the political compass. Would it be beneficial for Turkey’s polarized atmosphere? History shows we should be cautious on that matter.

Whatever happens, nationalists have set the rules since the elections of June 2015. First Tuğrul Türkeş, and now Bahçeli, have revitalized nationalism in one way or another. If Bahçeli succeeds in his enterprise, his story will surely be written. If not, at least he will have tried.