Bahceli: Enigmatic nationalist The crux of Erdogan’s vision
When Devlet Bahceli became chairman of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) back in 1997, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul and an up-and-coming local politician. Nearly two decades on, Bahceli’s right-wing party is only the fourthlargest faction in the Turkish parliament and has seen its support erode in successive elections. But in the wake of the failed July coup, Bahceli has been a regular visitor to the palace of Erdogan and the offices of Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as the Turkish strongman eyes a historic constitutional change to a presidential system. The reason is simple-the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) needs the votes of the MHP lawmakers to secure a super-majority in parliament and enable it to call a referendum on the legislation.
The second and third opposition parties-the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — both oppose the change, fearing it could take Turkey to one-man rule. This means that Bahceli, 68, described by analysts as an enigmatic and even inscrutable figure, is exerting considerable influence on the make-up of the final constitution and Turkish policy as a whole.
‘Accommodative to MHP’
“From what we have seen, the government is likely to be quite accommodative to the MHP in order to be sure that the presidential system goes through,” said Ilter Turan, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “No constitutional change is possible without the support of the MHP-if you add up the numbers the AKP simply does not have enough votes in the parliament.” Turan said it remained unclear exactly what Bahceli wanted, with the wily veteran politician issuing contradictory signals. “Bahceli pursues a rather enigmatic behaviour that is very difficult to interpret,” he said.
The MHP regards itself as the guardian of Turkey’s ethnic identity as a Turkish state and traditionally has vehemently opposed any compromise in the war with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Bahceli’s influence is likely to ensure there is no let-up in the fight against the PKK and also the current controversial crackdown against journalists, intellectuals and politicians deemed by the authorities to be linked to the rebel group. Turkish officials have said that the post of prime minister is likely to be scrapped under the new system and replaced by two vice presidents who, according to media reports, could be Yildirim and Bahceli.
“The MHP will support him (Erdogan) given the collective interest in militarizing the Kurdish issue,” said Roy Karadag, political science professor at the University of Bremen. “Bahceli will surely present himself as the second statesman of the country, who has maintained the ‘indivisibility’ of the Turkish nation,” said Karadag.
ANKARA: This file photo taken on July 19, 2016 shows Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli speaking during the AK Party’s group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM).