If it becomes clear that the AK Party and the CHP will fail to form a coalition government, the MHP will be faced with a tough decision. The party will either stick to its guns or limit its criticism of the AK Party to negotiate the terms of coalition
The people's voice, manifesting itself through the ballot box, forms the basis of democratic legitimacy. Politicians, in turn, have an obligation to accept popular wisdom and act in accordance with election results. In light of the outcome of the most recent parliamentary elections, all political parties and their leaders are finding it difficult to form a coalition government. Opposition parties are experiencing greater difficulties than the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) since they are torn between sticking to their guns to avoid a coalition government with the incumbents and proving the AK Party leaders right by destabilizing the country.
After all, political turmoil resulting from the inability to form a coalition government could help the AK Party bounce back in early elections. On the campaign trail, the incumbents may have been less than effective in warning voters against the troubles associated with coalition governments, but it would be a lot easier to send a strong message about the importance of stability in early elections. At this point, all political parties have already acknowledged that the electorate will punish whoever picks turmoil over the timely formation of a new government. As such, politicians from various backgrounds are carefully assuming a pro-stability position just in case the country ends up holding early elections in a few months. At the same time, each party is aware of each other's game plan, which makes the new government's formation equally likely as early elections.
Over the past weeks, the likelihood of three parties – the Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) – forming a coalition government has significantly decreased. Although the opposition parties shared an equal dislike for the AK Party ahead of the June 7 elections, their irreconcilable differences became impossible to conceal once the vote count began. For example, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli recently said: "A coalition government featuring the HDP or receiving their support is not on our agenda," while referring to CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's statement about "the 60 percent" made up by the opposition parties as "empty words." In light of Bahçeli's comments, it has become clear that the AK Party will be part of the new government.
Realistically, there are only two options left, either the AK Party will form a government with the CHP or it will join forces with the MHP. What the Turkish nationalists want is to serve as the main opposition party rather than partake in the government. Their unwillingness to govern reflects the MHP leadership's fear of paying the price for the coalition government's shortcomings, which was their experience in the 2002 parliamentary elections after three years in government. At the same time, MHP politicians are concerned about the possibility of early elections, which pushed them below the 10 percent election threshold 13 years ago.
Thus far, the MHP leadership's concerns have outweighed the vast amount of support from the bureaucracy and businesspeople as well as the ideological proximity between the AK Party and MHP bases. Although Bahçeli and his colleagues have been reluctant to shut the door to joining a coalition government, the main problem is that the Turkish nationalists desperately want to tear the AK Party's policies and practices to pieces. Another important thing to recognize is that, like other opposition parties, the MHP would like to engage in harsh criticism of the AK Party.
The nationalists, in turn, have set forth three conditions to strike a deal: The complete and permanent elimination of the Kurdish reconciliation process, the bringing to justice of former ministers implicated in the corruption allegations and the imposition of constitutional limits on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Another source of concern for the MHP leadership relates to foreign policy and, in particular, the Syrian crisis. Bahçeli, who believes that the United States, in cooperation with the PKK and Democratic Union Party (PYD), seeks to unite Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria to create an independent Kurdish state, finds it risky to sit out a critical period in the nation's political history.
If it becomes clear that the AK Party and the CHP will fail to form a coalition government, the MHP will be faced with a tough decision. The party will either stick to its guns and assume a reactionary position or limit its criticism of the AK Party to negotiate the terms of coalition. Failure to participate in a coalition government, however, might cause voters to put the blame for the political deadlock on the nationalists. To cut a long story short, the MHP might hold the key to the next government, but its situation is extremely tough.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.