Can Meral Akşener save Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Will she?

Translated by Melissa Clissold

The sincere conversations that took place between President Erdoğan and Good Party (İYİ Parti) chairperson Meral Akşener during the reception that took place on August 30 at Külliye has brought about some political speculations. Could Akşener be Erdoğan’s new ally?

Hello, good day, good week. Two separate incidents were brought to our attention regarding Turkish politics this weekend –  if we do not count the trustee incident, politics has not been very exciting recently. One is Ekrem İmamoğlu’s visit to the Southeast: What he did in Diyarbakır, meeting with the co-chairmen who were dismissed, visiting Tahir Elçi’s grave, and then attending a wedding in Batman. The other was the reception that took place on August 30 at Külliye. Those who attended, those who did not attend and the photos that were released. A photograph of Erdoğan with Doğu Perinçek and his wife Şule Perinçek’s together was released; but the photo that drew most attention was the quite intimate photo between İYİ Party Chairperson Meral Akşener and Erdoğan. The reason it drew so much attention is because, previously, during the March 31 elections, he had turned her into a target and spoke of the Nation Alliance as being an “Abasement.” We know and remember that in the last presidential elections he did not give her the time of day.

This time, it was even more attention grabbing that he targeted Akşener on March 31 and this has lasted for a while. We know that Akşener did not respond to him in a similar way. No matter how high Erdoğan’s voice echoed, Akşener replied, but never acted with the same harsh and combative manner. And one of the reasons that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost Istanbul with so many votes on the June 23 elections was because of the roles that the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the İYİ Parti played; if İYİ Party had not supported Ekrem İmamoğlu, his job would not have been that easy. Therefore, Erdoğan has an issue against Akşener because of this as well. When we look at this photo, it could be understood that Erdoğan may have entered or may be entering a change of attitude. Even if nothing political was discussed during that brief encounter, even if private affairs were the only things that were talked about, symbols in politics are very important and some people have brought forward the idea that the İYİ Party may approach Erdoğan.

Why is such a possibility being discussed? Plainly speaking, in its current condition, the İYİ Party does not really need Erdoğan, but Erdoğan needs the İYİ Party. Not only the İYİ Party; but any kind of support from wherever it comes, because the administration has been shaky for quite a while and he has only managed to go so far with Bahçeli. But the elections of March 31 and June 23 have shown us that, due to the addition of Bahçeli and the Grand Unity Party (BBP) etc. Erdoğan does not really feel safe on his own.  

Therefore, he constantly needs new allies and in this respect, maybe İYİ Party is one that comes to mind. Because when looking at other options, the only options are: The Republican People’s Party (CHP), HDP and to a certain degree the Felicity Party (SP) – yet when we look at the SP, we see by the number of votes they have gained that they could help soothe Erdoğan’s troubles.

Another reason that he sees the İYİ Party as a potential ally is because recently the nationalistic discourse that Erdoğan has been using is quite close to that of the İYİ Party too. But we must stress one thing in particular: In the latest period, if we look at the time from the founding of the İYİ Party onwards, we can see that the nationalism of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and İYİ Party is different. Even if they both emerged from the same roots, we can see that the İYİ Party has a softer approach to Nationalism. Even if there are indeed some names within the party that are quite harsh and could even race against Bahçeli…but generally, the Turkish Nationalism of the İYİ Party is not the nationalism of the MHP and in fact, lately the nationalism of the AKP.

I put two separate titles one after the other for this broadcast: Can Akşener save Erdoğan? Will she? First of all, when we look at the question of “Will she?”, we know that Erdoğan needs new allies to overcome this crisis. Akşener and the İYİ Party may be one of these allies; but, they will not be enough alone. Another question that comes to mind is with regards to what would happen to the MHP if Akşener and İYİ Party become allies? The MHP still has a certain validity, when we look at them in terms of votes and activities, yet, we can say that both parties are somewhat balanced.

Of course, the ideal situation for Erdoğan would be to add both of them to his side, and to make an alliance out of this. But I really do not think that this is possible. At this point I’d like to make a note: There was a call that Bahçeli made before the İYİ Party assembly towards those from the İYİ Party, he invited them to the MHP before the assembly, called for them to return home to the MHP. And different speculations were carried out regarding this, but I think the most logical was that this was a sort of effort to prevent İYİ Party becoming an opponent in his alliance with Erdoğan. Because we saw afterwards that, other than a few district managers, no one went from the İYİ Party to the MHP, none of the important people left. Therefore, Bahçeli’s call was left unanswered.

If we were to return to the question: Can she save Erdoğan? Perhaps the İYİ Party may play a role in allowing Erdoğa to breathe, but Erdoğan’s problem, his crisis, is such a structural crisis, it is such a harsh crisis, that the İYİ Party on its own will not be enough. If we are to come to the next point: Will she save him? Will Akşener approach this? I don’t think so. I know this: There are some people from the AKP who want to add the İYİ party to the coalition, and some within the İYİ Party that want to approach the AKP. I think the fundamental reason for those within the AKP wanting to add İYİ Party to the coalition is due to the fact that they have seen that they cannot go further with the MHP. Secondly, the harsh expressions of the MHP have truly paralysed and tied up the AKP in many ways. Therefore, there are many from the AKP who would prefer to be with the İYİ Party, who have a much softer nationalistic discourse.

But whether this is possible or not, there are certainly people who believe presenting the benefits of the administration to İYİ Party may be beneficial for them. And this is what is understood from the open or veiled messages that have been given at different times.

Are there some within the İYİ Party who want to ally with the AKP? As far as I know, there are some there as well and to a large extent there are those who want to benefit from the administration and gain power; but from what I understand, Meral Akşener does not have such a perspective. Because the March 31 and June 23 elections taught everyone quite a lot and for such an experienced politician as Meral Akşener, the situation is quite clear.  

Right now, there is an Erdoğan who is in a very difficult situation, especially in terms of politics and economics, and there is a potential for Turkey’s economic situation to worsen even more. And within this worsening environment – with increased prices – natural gas and others, transportation etc. – in order for Erdoğan to protect his popularity in the face of all of this, in order to stay above the water, he needs all kind of support, and he also needs all sorts of tools in order to change the daily agenda. If in the upcoming period he constructs everything on survival, as he did before the March 31 elections – and he has given signals towards this in recent days, by stating that the country is under siege etc. – he needs new allies.

Because, during the period of March 31, the fact that the İYİ Party, which is certified for its nationalism, didn’t approach the discourse of survival, this allowed this discourse to fall.

At this stage, if he wants to use this as an instrument once more, Erdoğan – and indeed he does not have that many possibilities, other than increase polarisation -, he will definitely want İYİ Party by his side. It’s for this reason that I do not think that the İYİ Party and Akşener will come near this. All steps taken towards them by the current administration will of course be good for them; because those steps will bring together an attribution to the İYİ Party and this will be a good thing for the İYİ Party.

So what sort of path can be taken from here? It looks like we will be discussing the possibility of the İYİ Party and AKP getting closer on different occasions. We will take into account what messages the İYİ Party will or will not give just like during the trustee incident. In the upcoming period, the CHP and HDP getting closer – and evidence of this comes up in different occasions – we will see what the attitude of the İYİ Party will be. Therefore, we will see whether or not the Nationalist Party has a future or not and of course one of the most important aspects here is also with regards to which parties will break away from the AKP. And one of the things that Meral Akşener will look out for regarding her relationship with AKP and Erdoğan will be this.

Because the possibility of new parties – this is currently more than just a possibility – is a cause for concern for Erdoğan and his need for allies is increasing. It is probable that Akşener will calculate this.

Now, you can see that the Chairman of the Bar Association Metin Feyzioğlu has become an ally with the AKP. But there is a huge difference between the time that Metin Feyzioğlu was considered as the chairman for the CHP and now. Under normal circumstances, Erdoğan wouldn’t need such a figure. But he is desperate. One possibility, in the upcoming period – and this has been said for a while, that there will be changes in the party management and Council of Ministers – he may want to utilise names such as Metin Feyzioğlu. But what meaning will this have? None, because right now, those people getting close to Erdoğan and the AKP have no sort of popularity; they are increasing the distance with those people who have a certain popularity, who have a certain following. So, when you look at all of this in this respect, it was indeed worth to have a discussion about the photo taken between Erdoğan and Akşener at the reception on August 30.

Of course, let’s remind those of you who do not know: Meral Akşener, after being in the Truth Path Party (DYP), she took part in the process of the founding of the AKP; but left a short while before the announcement of the party. She has certain positive and negative past experiences with Erdoğan. We must prepare to hear Akşener and Erdoğan’s name together in the same sentence in the upcoming period. I want to repeat what I said at the beginning: Erdoğan needs Akşener and others – but Akşener does not have such a need. And perhaps the further she distances herself from Erdoğan, her political future may be even more fruitful.

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

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