INless than a fortnight, a new political party will be launched in Turkey, trying to contest the absolute dominance of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party in the country. The leading figure of this party will be the former minister of Interior and ex-member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Meral Akşener and many in Ankara say that Erdoğan has finally met a worthy opponent.
Akşener served as minister of Interior from November 1996 to June 1997, when the government was ousted from power after the military coup d’état. She fiercely opposed the constitutional reform in April’s referendum, campaigning around Turkey against a presidential system making her thus one of the voices that spoke against the proposed reforms.
Already from late 2015, she was at odds with Devlet Bahçeli, leader of MHP; Meral Akşener became one of the voices in the nationalist party who expressed themselves against their leader’s choices. She, also, was one of the few within MHP who spoke about a Turkey that has gone astray from the founding values of Mustafa Kemal, stating that this should stop. From the very beginning during the campaign for the referendum, it was obvious that Akşener and the members of MHP that supported her had great reach amongst the citizens; with the party’s youth wing, the infamous “Grey Wolves”, supporting her stance against Erdoğan’s constitutional reform. It came as no surprise then during the summer more than 210 high ranking member of the nationalist party resigned from their posts in order to follow her and help her create a new political movement in Turkey.
The new party
“Our party will be born as the party of Turkey. Our nation has acknowledged it as Turkey’s party even before it has been born,” Akşener said, according to Hürriyet, in a meeting in Istanbul on late September. The meeting was attended by thousands of supporters and it was the first time when Akşener introduced the founding committee of the party. The committee includes retired ambassadors, former ministers, and lawmakers, as well as a businesswoman and a former police chief. All these people believe that Akşener can modernize the country’s policies and politics, without deviating from the founding principles of the state, while she will be able to oust from power the overbearing President Erdoğan.
Even the semantics behind the party’s congress is not to be disregarded regarding her political aspirations or/and the people she hopes to attract. The congress will take part on the 25th of October, in Samsun; a city not randomly chosen. From Samsun in 1919 Mustafa Kemal started the “Turkish War of Independence”, putting this way the foundation towards the creation of the modern Turkish state. Today, Meral Akşener is trying to reinvigorate the country and reinstate her secular character. The semantics in her move to choose that day are even greater if we take into account that the congress will take place just four days before the 29th which is celebrated as the Republic Day for Turkey, and commemorates the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 from Mustafa Kemal.
According to Ümit Özdağ, one of her colleagues, the new party will occupy the “national center” in Turkish politics. Speaking to Hürriyet last month Özdağ said that the basic principles of the republic are under attack therefore, the new party will embrace the Turkish nation, and will be loyal to the founding principles. Moreover, he specified that the party identifies itself as a central party, inviting all the “patriots” who are either on the right side either on the left side of the center to join their cause.
It is obvious that Akşener tries to unite around her various fractions of the political spectrum.She tries to do what Erdoğan did before her; unite all those who are disappointed by the current political parties, especially all those who oppose the constant freedom restrictions imposed by the AKP government, as well as the daily persecutions in relation to last year’s, failed coup attempt.
It’s worthy to pinpoint that political analysts from Ankara, already speak about the possibility of the leader of the main opposition party supporting Akşener’s presidential candidacy, if during her campaign she will pledge to restore the parliamentary system which was abolished last April.
It will be, also, very interesting to read the party’s agenda, regarding the Kurdish issue. As stated before, Akşener served as minister of Interior, during a very turbulent period for Kurds. Their violent persecution was a common phenomenon those years, therefore, Kurds will probably be hesitant to support her from so early on.
Additionally, Akşener wants to retain the great support she gets from the nationalist spectrum, especially from the “Grey Wolves”. It is apparent that the polices the new party will follow regarding the Kurdish issue will be a turning point about the support it gets from various fractions of the Turkish society.
Erdogan’s next move
According to public opinion polls conducted in mid-August, at least 20% of MHP will switch parties and will vote for Akşener, with at least 10% to 15% of Erdogan’s voters supporting her too. This will cause a significant problem to the ruling party, especially if we remember that in April the vote for the constitutional reform came first winning only the 51% that was needed and that the “no” came second with 49% of the vote. Moreover, it is estimated that the main opposition party will also lose voters to Akşener, but nevertheless will keep its traditional 25% that receives in the elections the last decade.
With the congress being closer, analyses endorsing the changes that “The Turkish Iron Lady” or the “She – Wolf” will bring have begun to increase. Many refer to the changes that the “Mother of the Turks”(“Anatürk”), as they have started calling her in an analogy to the “Father of the Turks” (Mustafa Kemal), will bring.
At the same time, the rapid increase in the numbers of her supporters has triggered another kind of conversation; a conversation about snap elections in Turkey. It is believed that if Akşener’s supporters continue to increase, then President Erdoğan will call for snap elections in order to deter her upward trend. Since August, he has instructed his party to prepare for elections by asking the party’s old members to step down so new people can take over and lead the party into a new era. At the same time, Erdoğan through new laws put secret services under the presidential authority, a move that could signify that he is gathering power because he is getting ready for “war”. One of his targets seems to be Akşener who could prove a “wild card” and threaten his rule after 16 years in power.
Might as he tried, Erdoğan could not connect her name with Fethullah Gülen ’s movement which he accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt last year. We should also not forget that the constitutional reform has indeed been approved by the referendum in April. It’s troubling for Erdoğan to have someone contesting his power and winning the Presidency of Turkey because then he will be held accountable for every political decision he has made.
The days before, and certainly after, the conference will be interesting to observe. Only then we will have a clear idea of how the Turkish political landscape will be reformed and how the Turkish President will decide to move.