One of the more interesting stories from the controversial Turkish Presidential Powers referendum has been the reaction of the extreme-right to Erdogan’s consolidation of power.
Turkey’s traditional far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has for years been something of a national embarrassment for Turkey. The party argues for an ethno-centric Turkish state and the party’s unofficial paramilitary wing, the Grey Wolves, have been responsible for the killings, detentions and abuse of opposition journalists, left-wing activists, Greek and Armenian minorities and Kurds.
Unlike Erdogan’s AK Party which is a conservative or some would say populist neo-Ottoman and neo-Islamist party, the MHP are the opposite. They want a small Turkey for only Turks and while the party’s Grey Wolves wing attacks Christian minorities, this is generally done on an ethnic rather than religious basis.
When as Prime Minister, Erdogan tried to reach various accords with the Kurdish PKK, the MHP were stridently anti-Erdogan. Now that Erdogan has become vehemently anti-Kurdish himself, the MHP have become sympathetic to the point that they became the only well-known opposition party to support the ‘YES’ vote in Erdogan’s referendum.
However, from the perspective of political power, the MHP may have consigned themselves to increased irrelevance.
Erdogan’s reforms abolish the post of Prime Minister and allow the President to directly appoint government ministers. This has the material effect of turning the often confrontational Turkish Parliament into little more than a debating chamber with few meaningful powers.
This if of course bad news for all opposition parties, including the moderate secular Kemalist CHP. However, unlike the CHP whose leaders have called on the referendum results to be nullified due to voting irregularities, the MHP supported the ‘YES’ vote. Now that they’ve got it, what role do they have in modern Turkey?
Erdgoan has all ready shifted to the right on the Kurdish issue, on ultra-nationalism, on anti-Europeanism and on journalistic censorship; all platforms espoused by the MHP over the decades.
With Erdogan being the man of the hour in Turkey and possibly remaining so until 2029 with his new reforms in place, could the MHP fade even deeper into irrelevance?
This could well be the case. Some commentators have expressed concerns about Erdogan’s ‘alliance’ with the ‘fascist’ MHP. The fact is that there is no formal alliance. The MHP simply played the role of Erdogan’s useful idiots in a campaign that otherwise attracted zero opposition parties to the ‘YES’ camp.
Now that he has achieved his goal with a fig-leaf of the MHP’s opposition support, Erdogan does not need them. Because Erdogan has now became a kind of Islamist/Ottoman version of the MHP, MHP voters might simply vote for Erdogan and his AK Party in future elections. That way they can get much of what they want and actually stand a clear chance of winning.
In this sense, Erdogan has not allied with the far-right, he has co-opted them. There is a big difference between the two scenarios. In this case, it says far more about Erdogan’s future than it does about the MHP’s past.