Bahceli: Enig­matic na­tion­al­ist The crux of Er­do­gan’s vi­sion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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).

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