It became clear on Tuesday that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won’t form an alliance ahead of the 2019 municipal elections. Now both sides have to compete against each other in a civilized manner and manage the risk of the former members of the Nation Alliance cooperating.
On surface, the disagreement was fueled by a proposed amnesty, the scope of an early retirement scheme and a controversial ruling by the Council of State. Yet the main challenge is related to the communication and formulation of the exact nature of the proposed alliance.
In the wake of this new state of affairs, the AK Party will encounter the challenge of the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) potential cooperation with the Good Party (İP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Istanbul and Ankara. The MHP, by contrast, could end up losing races in all the major metropolitan districts. Moreover, the İP could both become a permanent fixture in Turkish politics and emerge as a more powerful representative of Turkish nationalists if it succeeds in forming an alliance with the CHP.
It was significant that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli stressed that their broader alliance remained intact. After all, the rapprochement between their parties resulted in major transformations in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt. In light of those developments, it would be best for the future of the alliance to isolate their competition in the upcoming municipal elections.
The People’s Alliance is the most exceptional political alliance in the history of the Republic. As part of the agreement, civilian political leaders have created a platform that went beyond routine political calculations. Together, they formed a domestic bloc that advocated an autonomous foreign policy in the face of attacks. During this period, the AK Party and the MHP worked together in the fight against terrorism, the resistance against economic attacks and the search for a new political system. For the first time ever, civilian leaders proved capable of making big decisions by facilitating the transition to a presidential system of government. In the end, the AK Party and the MHP significantly benefited from their alliance.
Provided that new winds of turmoil are blowing in Turkey’s neighborhood and across the international system, taking apart the People’s Alliance would hurt the national interest. Yet the nature and future of the alliance, including where it stands on identity and ideology, must be analyzed carefully. Some like to claim that the People’s Alliance pushed the AK Party closer to the MHP’s ideology. Others maintain that the distinction that Erdoğan and Bahçeli made between Turkish identity and Turkism amounted to an ideological rupture or conflict. One thing should be clear: How the two parties define the Turkish nation are obviously different – which is perfectly normal. For example, the AK Party’s “national-native” discourse was not built on the MHP’s notion of Turkish nationalism with vast references to cultural elements. Instead, the AK Party’s discourse was based on the four principles of one nation, one flag, one homeland and one state. The Turkish nation, in turn, was defined as an umbrella identity that covered all ethnic groups, including the Kurdish community.
Again, analyses of which party exerted a stronger influence on the other within the context of the People’s Alliance have been notably superficial. Some observers like to see the AK Party’s emphasis on the Turkish nation as a manifestation of the MHP’s influence. Yet Bahçeli’s parliamentary address on “Turkism,” where he talked about a certain interpretation of Islam and Abdulhamid II, alone highlights the AK Party and MHP’s shared heritage of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek’s idea of Islamism. Having woken up to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) threat, the MHP leadership turned its attention to conservative-Islamist voters at the expense of seculars and neo-nationalists. In the wake of the July 15 resistance, the movement moved closer to the AK Party. In this sense, the People’s Alliance was formed on the basis of national survival and patriotism – the identity of the Turkish nation.
The public debate on the pledge of allegiance was unfortunate for the MHP leadership. Endorsing an exclusive interpretation of ethnic identity dating back to the single-party regime and targeting AK Party politician Bekir Bozdağ on the basis of his Kurdish background pushed the movement away from nationalism as patriotism and towards an exclusive type of nationalism. If anything, such a change in the MHP platform should be seen as the “İP effect.” In this regard, keeping intact the People’s Alliance is key to maintaining the MHP’s commitment to an idea of nationalism rooted in culture and the homeland. After all, the CHP and the İP already lay claim to secular and neo-Kemalist nationalism, and the MHP cannot compete with them in that area.
[Daily Sabah, 26 October 2018]