Political violence in Ankara is greater than meets the attention

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Jan 22, 2021

Three politically motivated assaults on figures vital of the federal government’s nationalist ally rattled the Turkish capital final week. The brazen violence despatched shockwaves throughout opposition quarters, however President Recep Tayyip Erdogan additionally appears to have gotten meals for thought.

The victims had been Selcuk Ozdag, deputy chair of the opposition Future Party, Orhan Uguroglu, a journalist heading the Ankara workplace of the every day Yenicag, and Afsin Hatipoglu, a lawyer who hosts a TV program on a channel vital of the federal government, all battered in broad daylight exterior their houses by masked males wielding sticks and weapons. 

What did the victims have in frequent? All had vocally criticized the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the election ally and de facto authorities companion of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), days earlier than the assaults. More importantly, all of them come from nationalist political background, however have turn into critics of the MHP, the spine of Turkey’s nationalist motion, over its alliance with the AKP. Hatipoglu, as an illustration, is a former head of the ultra-nationalist Idealist Hearths, identified additionally because the Grey Wolves. The rift inside the MHP has already spawned a splinter occasion that has aligned with the principle opposition. AKP defectors, too, have fashioned new events, together with the Future Party, led by former Premier Ahmet Davutoglu.

Ozdag suffered the worst accidents, together with damaged fingers and 17 stitches on his head. The findings of the police investigation recommend the assault was effectively deliberate. The 5 assailants reportedly performed reconnaissance round Ozdag’s home for per week. The police have arrested two of the suspects to date. They are each younger males actively concerned within the Ankara department of the Idealist Hearths. The group, infamous for lethal road clashes with left-wingers within the 1970s, capabilities because the youth department of the MHP.

Various comparable assaults on media figures of nationalist background have taken place up to now two years in what more and more seems to be like a scientific effort of intimidation. The MHP hyperlinks of the assailants recommend instigation by the occasion’s insurance policies on the very least. MHP chief Devlet Bahceli has solely compounded the misgivings by failing to sentence the newest assaults. 

Obviously, the assaults purpose to bully opposition politicians and media figures, particularly these vital of the MHP. But they seem to hold a message to Erdogan as effectively — a reminder that his nationalist allies is not going to draw back from stirring political tensions to power him toe the road. 

Indeed, the AKP’s alliance with the MHP, which helped Erdogan set up the chief presidency system and win the elections in 2018, is beneath growing pressure from each home dynamics and international coverage components. Bahceli desires to make it possible for Erdogan, a pragmatist with a copious file of U-turns, wouldn’t drop the MHP in favor of extra handy allies forward of elections in 2023.

Erdogan and Bahceli have each asserted that their alliance is undamaged and certain to win the 2023 elections, although opinion polls present their widespread help is on the decline. 

Still, a sequence of developments up to now a number of months supply ample clues that the AKP-MHP relationship isn’t as easy because it was within the presidential elections in 2018 or the municipal polls the next yr.

In home politics, Erdogan and Bahceli are at odds on a number of essential points. The first is Erdogan’s promise of judicial and financial reforms, which he’s prone to unveil in February. The judicial bundle is anticipated to hunt a point of normalization within the home scene, the place an unprecedented crackdown on dissent has landed hundreds in jail, together with Turkey’s hottest Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas. Bahceli is averse to such leisure on grounds that the safety of the state is at stake.

Second, Erdogan has been visiting small events of assorted stripes in an obvious bid to form a 3rd political bloc that will be beneath his management and fracture the opposition. But such a bloc might additionally ease Erdogan’s dependence on the MHP; therefore, his contacts with different events have fueled a confidence disaster within the alliance.

Standing out amongst Erdogan’s contacts are these with the Felicity Party, the successor of the Islamist Welfare Party through which Erdogan’s political profession started. Tellingly, Erdogan this week visited the grave of Necmettin Erbakan, the Welfare chief and his political mentor till the 2 turned estranged after a cut up within the motion. 

The tremors within the AKP-MHP alliance are ideological as effectively, stemming from rivalry on methods to mould the brand new Turkish nationalism. Will it give priority to Islamic tenets or secular values?

Erdogan is effectively conscious that MHP-inspired nationalism is on the rise in AKP grassroots, threatening to secularize and snatch some segments of his base. To stop such shifts, he must make it possible for his base stays dedicated to conservative values and hold his personal political Islamist credentials alive.

Another motive for the AKP-MHP confidence disaster has to do with a plan to amend electoral legal guidelines. The two allies are quietly engaged on a blueprint, however have but to reach a consensus. While the AKP hopes for adjustments that can facilitate Erdogan’s reelection, the MHP insists on sustaining the 50% threshold {that a} presidential candidate must go to win. The MHP is averse additionally to any concessions that might pave the best way for a return to the parliamentary system. In the MHP’s view, solely a strong authorities, drawing on the chief presidency system and the AKP-MHP alliance, might cope with perceived existential threats to Turkey from a hostile neighborhood and political instability and terrorist teams at home.

An extra level of rivalry issues the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest power in parliament. The MHP has known as for outlawing the HDP for allegedly collaborating with terrorists and inciting violence. Erdogan seems reluctant on such a move, cautious of antagonizing his personal Kurdish supporters and sparking contemporary tensions in already crisis-laden ties with the European Union and the United States.

Ankara’s current efforts to average its international coverage are to not the MHP’s liking, both. These embrace efforts to fix fences with the EU, the deliberate resumption of talks with Greece and overtures to the brand new US administration, which is anticipated to be harder on Turkey with insurance policies that might put additional pressure on the AKP-MHP alliance.

In sum, Erdogan’s must recalibrate his international coverage and woo new allies at home marks a brand new chapter for the AKP-MHP alliance, through which the MHP appears to have even larger leverage to exert stress on Erdogan.