Erdogan’s nationalist ally backs talks with pro-Kurdish party

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ISTANBUL — When Turkey’s ultra-nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli rose to address his lawmakers in parliament this week, many expected signs of a split in his party’s alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The source of the expected schism was the AKP’s meeting a few days earlier with members of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the left-wing group rooted in the Kurdish movement. Bahceli, in particular, has accused the party of supporting terrorism.

Instead, the bloated politician, who has led the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for the past 25 years, lent his support to talks about constitutional change.

“It is a natural step to negotiate work on the constitution with the HDP,” Bahceli said on Tuesday.

Before his speech, Orhan Uguroglu, Ankara correspondent for the nationalist newspaper Yenicag, asked whether the AKP-MHP pact had “collapsed” during the HDP meeting. “Will MHP chairman Devlet Bahceli call for ‘early elections’ in the parliamentary faction tomorrow? Ankara trembles, “he tweeted.

The November 2 talks between an AKP delegation led by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and HDP officials came as a surprise to many observers.

In recent years, the government has tried to portray the HDP as the main political wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been in revolt against the Turkish state for 38 years and is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. European Union and Turkey.

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The HDP — the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament — is also the subject of a lawsuit calling for closure and the barring of hundreds of its members from political activity.

Bahceli is probably the loudest voice calling for the party to close. When the Constitutional Court dismissed the charge in the case over process changes last year, Bahceli called for the court itself to be lifted.

The AKP held talks with the HDP and two other opposition parties last week in an effort to gain support for the proposed constitutional amendment to protect Muslim women’s right to wear the headscarf and safeguard family values ​​against what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called “differences”. mentioned. — a reference to the LGBTQ community.

The AKP-MHP alliance currently does not have enough parliamentary support to push the change through parliament or take it to a referendum, as Erdogan has promised if necessary.

Engin Altay, vice chairman of the parliamentary faction of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), accused Bahceli of “political inconsistency” in his approach to the HDP. The MHP leader and AKP figures have accused the CHP, the largest opposition party, of supporting terrorism while it has supported the HDP.

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“We say this all the time: the terrorist organization is separated; the party in parliament is separated,” he told Cumhuriyet, referring to the PKK and HDP.

“When they consider the HDP, they say, ‘It’s a legal party like the AKP,’ and if it doesn’t work for them, they say, ‘HDP is the same as the PKK.’ This is political inconsistency. It is one of Turkey’s biggest problems.”

Even senior AKP figures are questioning the approach. “If [the HDP] is a political extension of the PKK and a party that needs to be dissolved, why are we talking to them about the constitution?” tweeted Samil Tayyar, AKP board member.

Veteran journalist Murat Yetkin, meanwhile, suggested that talks with the HDP could ease the pressure on the party.

“It is known that within the AKP there are those who oppose the closure of the HDP, despite the wishes of the MHP,” he wrote. “It is said in the political backstage that the HDP closure case is unlikely to be concluded before… [next year’s] elections, especially now that the dialogue has started.”

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Preventing the HDP from backing an opposition CHP candidate in the June parliamentary and presidential elections would be a major strategic success for the ruling alliance.

“It makes sense that Erdogan would negotiate with the Kurds,” said Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “If they could be persuaded to nominate their own candidate in the first round and not vote in the second round, that would be a major coup for Erdogan.”

Esen pointed to attempts to manipulate the Kurdish vote in the rerun of the 2019 Istanbul local elections, when a leaked letter from imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was interpreted as calling on Kurds not to support the opposition candidate.

“Bahceli not only supported this initiative, but he even went out of his way to call on the Kurds to follow Ocalan’s line,” he told Al-Monitor. “Bahceli has been very pragmatic about his support for the ruling coalition and, in terms of political survival, Bahceli has been willing to support Erdogan at many key turning points.”