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AKP-MHP: Parting ways?

AKP-MHP: Parting ways?

Translation: Mert Erinç, Cansu Şafak, Alphan Telek, Edgar Şar, Oğul Tuna, Aylin Yardımcı

Subtitles: Elif Akbıyık

Edited by: Melissa Clissold

Broadcast date: Oct 22, 2018

Hello, good day. Tension has been building up between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for the last two days. It started with AKP chairman and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks over MHP’s proposal for a general amnesty. He adopted a clear attitude against this proposal and said: “We can forgive crimes against the state, not against the people – our reputation cannot be in favour of drugs, this is not how we want to go down in history.” And today, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli criticized him severely through Twitter and social media. Afterwards, this afternoon, AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik said: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is our red line, these kinds of remarks which are impolite and immoral.” Where will this go from here? It is not certain for now. But this isn’t the only case, there’s also the issue of the national student oath, which precedes this one.

We have seen that on the issue of the national student oath, AKP and MHP have parted ways to a considerable extent, albeit not as clearly as the former matter. Following Bekir Bozdağ’s objection to the State Council decision, Bahçeli had made harsh remarks in reference to Bozdağ’s Kurdish background and a social media campaign was put in order against Bozdağ. But even beyond that, pro-MHP teachers’ unions applauded the return of the national student oath while pro-AKP unions organized protests against it – so a great deal of dividedness emerged within their bases. The general amnesty issue came on top of that. Although it may look as if that’s all, in reality, behind it all, whether these two parties will form an alliance in the local elections is the point in question. And the reason for that is the fact that Erdoğan and Bahçeli met on Tuesday to speak on this matter.

No information has been released since then, and yesterday we saw Erdoğan’s damage on amnesty. It seems like there are problems about participating in the local elections as an alliance. Instead of discussing these problems directly, the leaders of the two parties go against each other over different problems.

Such a tension has suddenly arisen just when the two leaders had built a positive and close relationship, often praising each other. Erdoğan didn’t explicitly address Bahçeli, although he criticized Bahçeli’s attitude and his amnesty proposal. However, Bahçeli did take it personally and posted a set of tweets as a response. In turn, AKP Spokesperson Ömer Çelik condemned Bahçeli of assaulting Erdoğan for no reason and said “The president could have mentioned his name if he wanted to”. It’s a strange situation. There’s also another issue: Regarding the Pasteur Bronson case, Bahçeli strongly criticized the government’s actions, criticizing their judgment.

Negotiations for the local elections 

What will come out of all this? Last week, I said that the alliance of these two parties was very rational in the sense that they feed and save each other. Then all of this happened, which reminds me of the saying “the child I praise doesn’t live much”. I still don’t think they have parted ways. However, some claim that the main dispute is about the local elections and that Bahçeli wanted AKP to give away a few metropolitan municipalities – especially Adana – to MHP, which is understandable. But AKP doesn’t seem to be inclined to do so. Although they have not yet talked publicly about it, there are serious speculations and rumours. There is a problem here: while local elections are the main issue in question, the argument goes on with a set of secondary issues. However, one should not forget that it is Bahçeli himself, who is in the lead. Disregarding the issue of pardon, I think Bahçeli has been more in a leading position regarding the issues of Brunson and the student oath, because the ideological ground of the AKP-MHP alliance is the one of the MHP, which is nationalism. The concept of “native and national” is commonly used by both parties but is still much closer to the MHP’s jargon and it is certain that Erdoğan starts using a conspicuously more nationalist vocabulary when he is coming closer to the MHP. Once upon a time, Erdoğan was so skeptical of nationalism that he even abolished the student oath in the schools and his constituents significantly supported him. In fact, he had a different stance on the Kurdish issue back then.

After so many years, when the student oath becomes again a matter of debate, AKP starts wavering. Instead of discussing this as a matter of nationalist ideology, they discuss it from a legal/political perspective, calling into question the fact that the authorities of the government have been used by the Council of State. However, the issue is primarily ideological but they don’t want to go into it. As a matter of fact, we have not seen Erdoğan talking about it since its abolition years ago. Rather, some pro-government figures or people like Bekir Bozdağ, who do not have as many authorities as in the past, have voiced their objection. There seems to be something boiling under the surface regarding this issue.

But, as I mentioned before, MHP stands in an advantageous position in this coalition because the coalition is constructed on nationalism. Therefore, the student oath is very suitable for this coalition. It would not have been surprising that AKP would say “What we did in the past was not a suitable decision, thus, its coming back is all right” but the adherents of AKP hesitate quite a lot, there is an unrest here. It is also possible to see that MHP’s position is stronger with regards to the Priest Brunson case. Tough, the issue of Pardon for prisoners does not cover this; the pardon has no relation at all with nationalism or nationality; it is not possible to explain that.

This is increasingly the most important issue for Bahçeli, that has come across through Alaattin Çakıcı and that he increasingly laid claims on it by positive reactions from the people who demand pardon. It is clear that the pardon of judicial prisoners is not the most important issue for Turkey. When we talk about pardon, the more significant issue is the pardon of political prisoners – Bahçeli does not have such a perspective.

The nature of coalitions

What would will be the result of all of this? This tension will continue for a while, then the leaders will assemble again. The fundamental issue, local elections will be determined here. We can think that all these mutual accusations and discussions will continue till the topic of local elections become clearer. However, that Bahçeli targeted and accused President Erdoğan with his tweets like today is not expected much.

So, it’s important to realise this is not normal: this is a significant obstacle for the AKP-MHP coalition. However, it is also worth remembering that all coalitions are like this. I have seen many coalitions in Turkey since my childhood. With Özal coming into power, those coalitions ceased for quite a while, giving way to a single party rule. Later, with The Motherland Party (ANAP) gone, the coalitions came back; and with AKP coming into power, the coalition period has once again ended and Erdoğan and the AKP frequently recounted the difficulties Turkey faced with coalition governments, even though they have been running the country with an unnamed coalition themselves now. And so, such clashes and rivalries do arise in coalitions, some of them may not be resolved; some of them – I’m thinking of some past examples – certain issues have persisted as issues until the last days of government between coalition parties; though part of the skill is to sustain those coalitions despite those deep divisions. Therefore, there is no rule that says that such problems will inevitably break the coalitions.

From this perspective, coalitions are actually a wiser, more desirable choice for democracies. However, in places like Turkey where the political polarisation and severity is strongly present, such disagreements can escalate very quickly. We are going to see whether, in a country that is far removed from democracy in this way, such debates can be had in a calm and civil manner. But at the moment what we’re seeing is a exchange of some very harsh statements.

 Erdoğan’s past alliances

I don’t think the break-up of this coalition will emerge out of this because the matters in question are not vital. While Turkey has many problems with its economy, foreign affairs, with the Kurdish question and its extensions in the region, with the US; and while there is the possibility of a serious difference of opinion on all of these issues, if the AKP and MHP part ways because of the student oath or dispute on amnesty, that will mean: They have already intended to end up like that, otherwise they won’t just leave each other simply because of these discussions. These disputes could just be –How should I put this?– pretext for the possibility of dissociation. It should not be forgotten either: President Erdoğan has been running this country alone for 16-17 years and is constantly changing allies. It is not surely that Erdoğan will be in a lifelong coalition with MHP, he could change MHP anytime with another one, and like what he had done to his preceding allies, he could criminalize and demonize MHP immediately, just after leaving it. But I don’t think that time has come yet. These disputes show us that this is not the moment but something certainly is decaying.Bahçeli feels himself more powerful due to his nationalist ground and acts fearlessly but Erdoğan is ruling the state eventually and he has the power to prevent MHP’s ability to reach the state facilities. For now MHP have access within the state, just like Gülenists once had. But like Gülenists, MHP’s staff within the establishment could be blocked. As far as we can see, a strife has started. If an alliance as MHP desires does not take shape in the local election, we may well witness polemic in such matters. As figured at the beginning of broadcast, I think we are far from the point of dissociation at this phase.

Yes, that is all I have to say, have a good day.