Ultranationalism to shape Erdoğan’s Turkish order - analyst

Rising ultranationalist sentiment in Turkey will likely play a significant role in shaping, and even threatening, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s vision for his country, Burak Kadercan, assistant professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College, wrote in War on the Rocks, a U.S. website focusing on security issues.

Kadercan’s assessment comes after parliamentary elections in Turkey last month in which the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) outperformed all expectations by winning more than 11 percent of the vote.

The party and its septuagenarian leader, Devlet Bahçeli, were largely written off by analysts prior to elections after infighting led to a split in the party and the formation of a new competitor, the Good Party, which it was believed would siphon off much off the MHP’s support.

But the MHP entered into an alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) prior to elections, and supported President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in presidential elections held at the same time as the parliamentary vote, a move many thought would further erode support for the party.

As it turned out, MHP votes played in critical role in helping Erdoğan win the presidential election, whilst the result of the parliamentary election leaves the AKP depending on MHP support for a majority in Turkey’s parliament.

According to Kadercan, the MHP’s performance in June’s elections has been a wake-up for those inclined to write off the role of nationalism in Turkish politics,

“It is high time,” he wrote, “we take ultranationalism seriously and move beyond simplistic interpretations that portray ultranationalists as unidimensional caricatures or throwbacks. Ultranationalists themselves have most certainly moved well beyond such interpretations. The rest of us just need to catch up.”

The election result, said Kadercan, indicated, “a deep undercurrent in Turkish politics: A new brand of ultranationalism has been on the rise for a long time, and it has begun to have tangible impacts on the ballot box,” making this year, “the best the ultranationalist movement has seen in decades.”

Given the extent to which Erdoğan’s power depends on support from the far right, the election results also indicate, “ultranationalism has evolved into a potent political force, the direction of which is hard to predict, and it is here to stay for a long time,” he said.

The ultranationalist rise has in part been aided by Erdoğan himself who turned to nationalist discourse in 2015 looking for short-term gains. But, warned Kadercan, “ultranationalism proved to be a tiger he cannot control all by himself, partially because Bahçeli has the tiger’s ear.”

This will likely have profound implications for Turkish politics. “Unless Erdoğan finds a way to upend the MHP leader, Bahçeli will ensure that AKP does not tone down its anti-PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) posture within and outside of Turkey,” Kadercan said.

It also makes it unlikely that there will be any progress in solving Turkey’s longstanding problems relating to its ethnic Kurdish minority, with whom Bahçeli and other nationalists have always been unwilling to compromise.

In turn, said Kadercan, there will be consequences in Syria and in Turkey’s relations with the United States, which has lent support to Kurdish-dominated Syrian groups that control large swathes of the country abutting the Turkish border and which Ankara considers extensions of the PKK.