It’s safe to say that Turkey is experiencing a transition period. The Turkish political elite also passes through a difficult process. Some observers believe that one of the major political parties in Turkey, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is in danger of collapse. We requested Sinan Baykent, a political analyst from Turkey, to share views on the situation.
There is a race for the chairmanship inside the party, one of the main candidates for this post is Meral Akşener. What do you think of her chances?
Meral Akşener is certainly an important political figure in Turkey; I think no one could or would oppose this fact. However, asking whether she’s the best candidate to lead the MHP after Bahçeli or not is another thing. I personally seriously doubt it and this, for several reasons.
First, Akşener is a political actor of the past. Despite the fact she’s somewhat appreciated in various right wing circles, her name is timeworn. What do I mean by that? Akşener was Minister of the Interior in 1997 and she got involved in numerous scandals. Some conservatives still have a high opinion of her because she “resisted” the coup at that time. Nevertheless, others and especially republicans and even some nationalists didn’t quite digest scandals she’s got herself into. In this sense, she doesn’t represent a “breath of fresh air” and isn’t young enough to set a new start in her career.
Secondly, she has lost popular support after the bloody coup attempt of July the 15th. Even without running for MHP leadership, the creation of a new political party wouldn’t help her now. “I am going to be the next PM,” she said during her intra-party campaign before July the 15th. As the coup failed, AK Party launched a propaganda attack against her, asserting that Akşener knew about the upcoming coup and she was preparing herself to undertake the job. The propaganda has been successful and convinced important segments of the population. Whereas before July the 15th, polls were crediting Akşener with almost 25% of the vote intentions if she were elected leader of MHP, today nothing remains.
Thirdly, Akşener has extremely ambiguous relations with the U.S. Rumors of this kind have always circulated in Turkey, long before July the 15th. This is also partly why she’s associated with Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) nowadays. Her chief campaign manager, Ali Serim, was taken into custody for being a member of FETO. This is a very annoying and disturbing indicator. Does Meral Akşener also belong to FETO? I honestly don’t think so. On the other hand, is it possible that Akşener could have flirted with FETO in recent past? I don’t know and I don’t have the answer for this question. But we live in a conjuncture in which even a question mark is a risk that one political actor cannot afford to take.
You rightly mentioned in your question that Turkey is currently experiencing a transition period. I fully agree with that assessment. This is why I would like to unveil my fourth argument in this regard. Akşener didn’t quite catch the Zeitgeist. Akşener’s ideas are obsolete. They are mainly directed towards neo-liberalism. Neo-liberal paradigm is dying throughout the entire world. Europe is sweeping away from neo-liberalism. The Americans – for God’s sake! – They elected a President promising great infrastructure projects mainly based on public spending! Akşener pretends she’s a nationalist whereas in fact she isn’t. She’s – at best – a Thatcherite. Nationalism, in the 2017, is mainly orientated towards protective economy. Nationalists, everywhere, are keen on preserving and improving the welfare state, giving voice to silent masses, workers and peasants. Actual MHP already lacks of these skills, what would it be if a political actor like Meral Akşener comes to lead the party? Let me tell you: A disaster!
Neither Bahçeli nor Akşener are suited for MHP leadership. Turkish nationalists deserve the best, not the worst. Among current candidates (that is to say Akşener but also Sinan Oğan, Ümit Özdağ and Koray Aydın), no one seems to be capable of meeting Turkish people’s expectations.
The danger of collapse is certainly real for the MHP. But this isn’t a matter of different personalities competing for chairmanship. The source of an eventual collapse would be the field of ideology and philosophy. If the MHP refuses to evolve ideologically, no matter who runs the party – it will face total and radical extinction.