Turkey’s controversial vote on Sunday has opened palpable cracks within the nationalist bloc after referendum alliance between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) failed to translate into a tangible success.
President Erdogan’s Yes camp won with a slim margin of the majority, 51.3 to 48.7. The result suggests a drastic cut in total of their votes from a previous election, offering a sharp rebuke to MHP leader Devlet Bahceli after his late re-alignment with President Erdogan stirred intra-party opposition. In total, ruling AKP and MHP won 61 percent in recent parliamentary elections on Nov. 1, 2015. But on Sunday, that dropped to 51 percent, revealing a 10 percent loss.
Nationalist opposition party’s internal upheaval and split will take a new turn as media is abuzz with talks of renegade Meral Aksener’s plans to form a new party. Despite the defeat of No vote with a slim margin, Ms. Aksener’s robust campaign posture for all those odds and government-engineered obstacles, whipped up hopes among the nationalist base.
Mr. Bahceli’s lackluster electoral performance in past elections and his inefficient leadership contributed to the emergence of an insurgent group within the party led by Ms. Aksener and other key nationalist figures.
Ms. Aksener unsuccessfully tried to challenge Mr. Bahceli’s two-decade grip on the party last year. President Erdogan intervened in MHP’s internal jostling for power in favor of embattled Bahceli by blocking a party convention to settle the leadership dispute.
The referendum result rattled the nationalist party, with Mr. Bahceli scratching his head to find out the poor standing at the ballot box. He even asked Supreme Election Council (YSK) President Sadi Guven to explain how many nationalists voted No. His remarks signaled another wave of witch-hunt against the discontent within the party.
Despite the win, the AKP leadership also appeared unsatisfied from the unconvincing result, looking for reasons that denied a resounding victory to the party.
Former Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin from AKP was quick on Sunday night to ascribe blame on MHP, accusing it of reneging on its promise to back Yes in the referendum.
Ms. Aksener’s brave independent campaign raised eyebrows on the part of the government which sees a new party within center-right as a direct threat to its political fortunes.
According to Hurriyet, the former Interior Minister is gearing up for a new nationalist, center-right party that could woo both traditional supporters of MHP and ruling AKP.
The media is speculating on the name of the new party. Nationalist Democrat Party or Nationalist Turkey Party are among the options.
It is far from clear whether the party would include former AKP bigwigs and stalwart politicians such as former President Abdullah Gul or former Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc, both founding fathers of AKP who have been recently sidelined by President Erdogan.
Despite the loss with a slim margin, the referendum result has injected a fresh source of hope to Turkey’s fragmented and battered government critics over the resilience of opposition to anti-authoritarian turn in Turkey.
A new party in center-right would further threaten AKP’s standing with the possibility that discontented and unhappy AKP supporters would shift their loyalty if the government shows signs of stumbling in its lofty policy promises.
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