Aug 05 2019

Turkey’s Erdoğan likely to go all-in on support for nationalist alliance partners - columnist

A meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his far-right junior coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli was a significant sign of the direction of the country’s politics, Turkish columnists have said.

The one-hour meeting on July 31 was the president’s first visit to a party leader’s home, veteran journalist Murat Yetkin noted in a blog post on Saturday.

The imagery of the meeting was significant, Yetkin said. Erdoğan’s pose with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader in front of two statues of grey wolves, potent symbols of the Turkish nationalism espoused by the MHP, could be a sign that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking to strengthen ties with its coalition partners, Yetkin said.

Cumhurbaşkanımız Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, MHP Genel Başkanı Devlet Bahçeli'yi evinde ziyaret etti. pic.twitter.com/EdgLQXdNHt

— AK Parti (@Akparti) 31 July 2019

Poor results in this year’s local elections, in which the ruling party lost five of Turkey’s six largest cities, have piled the pressure on Erdoğan and strengthened opposition from factions within the AKP.

Senior AKP politicians, including former minister Ali Babacan, former president Abdullah Gül and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, have discussed forming two new political parties that could draw away disillusioned members of the ruling party.

Influential AKP politicians and journalists have blamed the local election results on the aggressive politics encouraged by the AKP-MHP coalition, leading to speculation that Erdoğan could seek to break ties with his far-right partners to see off a rebellion within his own party.

However, the visit is a sign that the president is seeking to double down on his alliance and seek to strengthen the MHP, which has faced its own split in recent years.

Good Party leader Meral Akşener led a group of MHP defectors to form the new party in 2017, after widespread discontent with Bahçeli’s leadership of the party and support for Erdoğan’s favoured executive presidential system of government. A day after the meeting with Erdoğan, Bahçeli called on politicians from the nationalist Good Party to return to the MHP fold.

Meanwhile, the MHP’s history of stepping in to call early elections has raised speculation that this could have been touched on during the meeting.

The party’s call for snap elections during an economic crisis in 2002 brought the AKP to power for the first time. It was Bahçeli who called for snap elections last year, over a year before they were due to take place. Erdoğan’s victory in the June 24, 2018 national elections ushered in the new executive presidential system.

Abdulkadir Selvi, a journalist known as a bellwether for movements within the AKP, said in a column on Monday that both parties had strongly denied speculation over early elections since the meeting.

However, Selvi said, the AKP’s poor showing in this year’s local elections have made snap elections a likely prospect.

Last Wednesday’s meeting could also be an important indicator of Turkey’s foreign policy direction, according to Yetkin.

A day before the meeting, Turkey’s foreign minister announced that he would send a 10-person delegation to monitor reported human rights abuses against Uighur Turks in China.

The plight of China’s Muslim Uighur minority, millions of whom are believed to be interned in “re-education camps”, is a significant concern for the MHP, who follow an internationalist form of Turkish nationalism.

The announcement could signal that Erdoğan has sided with the MHP on the issue against the wishes of a Eurasianist clique of politicians and officers who favour closer ties with Russia and China, Yetkin said.