Turkey’s ultranationalist ‘kingmaker’ pulls Erdoğan further right - report

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is being pulled further to the right by his reliance on ultranationalist leader Devlet Bahçeli, AFP reported on Wednesday.

Once fierce critics of Erdoğan, Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increasingly threw its support behind the president in the aftermath of the 2016 failed military coup.

"For our country's survival, the People's Alliance became a necessity," MHP lawmaker Ayse Sibel Ersoy told AFP.

The party subsequently played a key role in backing Erdoğan’s bid to greatly expand his powers as president through a referendum in 2017. This support was later formalised into the electoral pact between the MHP and Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) known as the People's Alliance.

The AKP is reliant on its smaller ally for a majority in parliament. But with only 48 seats, making it the fourth largest party, the MHP exerts undue influence over the government, critics told AFP.

“In the past three years, Mr Bahçeli’s attitude and behaviour have set the AKP’s political course,” former AKP member and deputy chair of the opposition DEVA Party İdris Şahin said.

The MHP’s relationship with the government has also allowed ultranationalists to take up positions in the state bureaucracy, according to the news agency.

The party functions as Turkey’s "national security council", AFP cited associate professor ‪Burak Bilgehan Özpek of TOBB University as saying.

Staffed by top military commanders, the National Security Council was once one of Turkey’s most influential institutions before AKP reforms brought it firmly under government control.      

Previous AKP administrations have taken a progressive position on national security questions, including undertaking peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been embroiled in an internal conflict with the Turkish state since the 1980s.

However, Bahçeli maintains a hard-line stance on such issues, leading recent calls for the closure of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and describing student protesters “as venomous snakes whose heads should be crushed”.

"It's important for Bahçeli that the AKP acts in line with the national security framework," Özpek said.

Despite not doubting his influence, experts disagree on the degree of Bahçeli’s sway over Erdoğan, according to AFP.

"I don't think Erdoğan has been led astray and is forced to take steps that he doesn't really want to," Berk Esen, assistant professor at Sabanci University, told the news agency.