New Turkish nationalist party could be challenge for Erdogan
Istanbul - A new nationalist party in Turkey could become a serious political challenge for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as voters complain about a slowing economy and rising corruption.
Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is facing local and parliamentary elections in 2019. That year also includes a presidential election that will decide whether Erdoğan can obtain his goal of becoming head of state with full executive powers. While polls show that the AKP, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s strongest political force, the creation of a new party could thwart Erdogan’s ambitions.
The Good Party, led by former Interior Minister Meral Akşener, is scoring well in opinion surveys, suggesting it could draw disgruntled right-wing voters from the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
As one of the few prominent women in Turkey’s male-dominated political scene, Aksener joined the centre-right True Path Party (DYP) and served in the cabinet as interior minister (1996-97) before switching to the MHP.
Now she has launched her own organisation, which has become the source of much speculation in Turkey. A survey by the Gezici polling firm has Akşener’s Good Party at nearly 20 percent of the vote, a result that, if true on Election Day, would make it the third strongest group in Turkey’s parliament and that could end the AKP’s domination of the chamber.
The Good Party enters the stage at a time many Turkish voters are looking for alternatives, pollster Murat Gezici said. “One-in-three AKP voters think Turkey needs a new party,” he said, referring to the results of his latest survey.
The poll also indicated that a majority of MHP voters said they want a new political movement and that Akşener could be a serious challenger to Erdoğan in the presidential election in two years. The survey results suggested support for Akşener could keep Erdoğan to less than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round of the election and could force the president to face her in a second round.
Aksener, who studied history before going into politics, is not hiding her ambition. When the audience at the launch of the Good Party on October 25 called her “prime minister” in celebratory chants, she responded by saying that she would be president.
The Good Party is a staunchly right-wing group competing with the AKP and the MHP for conservative voters and could profit from growing scepticism towards the ruling party.
“We don’t know much about the new party but Akşener sure is better than Tayyip,” Rahfet, an Istanbul taxi driver who would only give his first name, said in reference to Erdoğan. “There is corruption everywhere.”
Erdoğan, in power since becoming prime minister in 2003 and president in 2014, is Turkey’s most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the republic almost a century ago. Turkey enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom under Erdoğan and the AKP but a wave of persecutions of suspected enemies of the state since a failed coup in 2016 led to complaints of a repressive atmosphere in the country.
Turkey’s relations with traditional partners in Europe and the United States are strained. At the same time, inflation has risen to 12% and unemployment is at 10% overall, with one-in-five younger Turks out of work.
In a sign of the rising political discontent, almost half of Turkish voters rejected Erdogan’s plans for an executive presidency in a referendum this year. Results showed that voters in the country’s biggest cities had turned against him. The president responded with a purge of local officials that included forced resignations of the AKP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara.
Akşener told delegates at the founding ceremony of her party that Turkey was suffering from a “dysfunctional opposition and a political structure that is no longer democratic.” She accused Erdogan and the AKP of using the judiciary for political ends and said the country was “tired” of the current government.
That sentiment is shared by Turks who are concerned that the country is on the wrong track. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently had to defend himself after the publication of documents of the so-called Paradise Papers revealed that his family had investments in Malta that could be used to evade Turkish taxes. The opposition called for an investigation.
Gezici’s poll found that approximately 12 percent of AKP supporters and more than 22 percent of MHP voters might go for Aksener’s party in the next election. If that holds in the election, the MHP, an AKP ally, could drop below the 10 percent threshold that a Turkish party needs to cross to win seats in parliament.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has called for an abolition of the 10 percent condition, a move seen by many as an indirect admission that the MHP sees its support waning.
Thomas Seibert is a reporter with the Arab Weekly, where this column is originally published.