Turkish Nationalists Kingmakers in New Parliament

Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party now holds the balance of power in parliament.

Devlet Bahçeli, chairman of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party, gives a speech in Bursa, March 19, 2011
Devlet Bahçeli, chairman of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party, gives a speech in Bursa, March 19, 2011 (MHP)

After an election that saw it lose its majority for the first time in twelve years, the survival of Turkey’s Islamist government depends on whether or not the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will go into coalition with it.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) got 41 percent support in parliamentary elections on Sunday, down from almost 50 percent four years ago. It fell below the 276 seats needed for a majority in the Grand National Assembly and could either try to rule as a minority government or seek a coalition partner.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) are unlikely to support another AKP government. Both are left-wing and campaigned against both the ruling party’s majoritarianism and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proposal to change his office from a ceremonial function into an American-style executive presidency.

AKP critics fear that an executive presidency would allow Erdoğan to manipulate Turkey’s democratic institutions and suppress dissent.

Recent years have seen the ruling party battered by graft accusations and mass protests. Under Erdoğan’s leadership, it went on the offensive against its opponents. Hundreds of police officers, prosecutors and judges who were involved in corruption probes were purged. Demonstrations were violently broken up.

Nigar Göksel, a Turkey analyst for the International Crisis Group, argues at Politico it was this intolerance of dissent that created a sense of solidarity between normally fractious factions of Turkish society — nationalists, Islamists, Kurds, secularists and liberals. She doesn’t rule out a three-party coalition between the CHP, HDP and MHP, even if the latter is ideologically far removed from the first two.

As the largest party, the AKP will still get the first chance at forming a government.

The Atlantic Council’s Aaron Stein believes the likelihood of an AKP-MHP coalition is low. The nationalists have rejected Erdoğan’s proposal for an executive presidency and are critical of the Kurdish peace process.

Early elections are the more likely outcome, according to Stein, either as a result of failed coalition talks or, within a couple of years, of a minority government collapsing.

Whether the AKP or the CHP and HDP form such a minority government, the MHP would hold the balance of power in parliament.

Stein speculates that Erdoğan may let the two left-wing parties form a government with informal MHP support and bet that the country will eventually sour on the idea of fractious coalition politics. The AKP could then seek to lure back disaffected voters in the next election.

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