All eyes have been fixed on the murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi for the last three weeks. Turkey has managed the situation with notable success, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a firm commitment to collect evidence and build a case against the perpetrators. In the end, Saudi Arabia admitted to the killing, yet is making a clear effort to shelter Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from international outrage.
Meanwhile, major developments have taken place inside Turkey. The Council of State ruled against a decision by the government to abolish the pledge of allegiance in schools – over which representatives of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose recently disagreed on a proposed amnesty for certain criminals, have been divided. The opposition attempted to spin the issue as a question of “national identity” and “Turkishness.” Yet the main problem is that the Council of State overstepped its constitutional mandate to engage in a form of tutelage over civilian politics. The most recent criticism of Erdoğan’s remarks on the amnesty bill by the MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli made it look like there were problems within the People’s Alliance. The question on everyone’s mind was whether the situation amounted to an ideological split within the alliance.
There is no reason to believe that the current debate will result in the disintegration of the People’s Alliance. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that the alliance consists of two political movements with diverse backgrounds and political identities that do not overlap completely. The People’s Alliance was born out of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that was the deepest point of the turbulence that had affected Turkey since 2013. It was an attempt to protect Turkey’s national interests, ensure our country’s well-being and secure the future of our nation. In this regard, it reflected an existential unity rather than tactical cooperation. It was this sense that gave rise to the “Yenikapı spirit,” the April 2017 constitutional referendum and, most recently, the June 2018 elections.
At the end of the day, Erdoğan and Bahçeli formed and kept afloat the People’s Alliance as leaders of two rival political parties. It is clear that their agreement was key to the consolidation of Turkey’s presidential system of government – which is necessary for Ankara to pursue an autonomous foreign policy and conduct counterterrorism operations across its southern border.
It is only natural for the People’s Alliance to come under attack from time to time. In particular, the Good Party (İP) has been mounting pressure on the MHP by exploiting the controversy surrounding the pending amnesty and the Council of State ruling. The İP wants to appeal to Turkish nationalists in an effort to reverse the MHP’s partnership with the AK Party. As the various political parties start thinking about their local election strategies, tensions within the People’s Alliance would play into the hands of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the İP.
Political parties need votes to survive. They all aim to come to power. Therefore, it is only normal that the AK Party and the MHP find themselves at odds over certain issues, including the amnesty bill. It makes perfect sense for them to try and maintain the loyalty of their followers.
Provided that Turkey’s new system of government has not yet been fully institutionalized and regional turmoil stands to deepen, fueling tensions over domestic politics won’t serve the interests of either party. In particular, they would hurt themselves if they engage in a war of words over national identity. After all, one of the core values of the People’s Alliance is that the Turkish nation does not refer to ethnic identity.
The pledge of allegiance is an unmistakable symbol of the authoritarian single-party regime in Turkey. Its abolition must not be reversed. We must remember that one of the core elements of Turkey’s national identity was the July 15 resistance.
Disagreements are bound to occur. Yet Erdoğan and Bahçeli could still strengthen their partnership through dialogue.
[Daily Sabah, 23 October 2018]