The opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), now preparing for its ordinary congress, is experiencing an unprecedented leadership race.
The number of candidates running for the chairmanship of the MHP, a party which generally does not witness an intense leadership race as the next chairman of the party is typically well-known and evident before a congress is even held, is currently six. Evaluating the recent surge in the number of candidates for the leadership role with just one-and-a-half months to go before the congress scheduled for Nov. 4, experts estimate the final number of candidates, including the current party leader, Devlet Bahçeli, to be nine.
The recent increase in the number of candidates is attributed to a call from Bahçeli, who said anyone in the congress who wanted to run could do so. According to the MHP’s lobby, emphasizing intra-party democracy, Bahçeli had called for interested party members to run for the post of chairman, stating, “Whoever wishes to do so can apply for candidacy, I promise this.” Under the MHP’s bylaws, the support of at least 40 delegates is needed for a nomination.
One of those who started the leadership race early is MHP Antalya deputy Yusuf Ziya İrbeç. İrbeç, who visited several of the party’s local branches shortly after the general elections last year, was expelled from the party on charges of behaving in an undisciplined manner. İbrahim Faruk Evirgen, one of the founders of the MHP, indicated that İrbeç had returned to the party because of a court decision as his expulsion was not in accordance with the law.
Responding to questions by Sunday’s Zaman, Evirgen said: “The first multicandidate party congress took place after the death of MHP founder Alparslan Türkeş. It is still too early to say that the era of a single candidate running for leadership will come to an end with the Nov. 4 congress. First of all, the party’s undemocratic bylaw which does not allow a candidates race should be changed. In addition, although I am one of the founders of the party, I could not enter the congress hall during the previous congress. The rival candidates of esteemed leader Bahçeli were not even allowed to approach the gate of the congress hall while it was being held. I don’t believe a democratic congress will be held on Nov. 4, even if those who have announced their candidacy are allowed to enter the congress hall.”
Evirgen also revealed that MHP Trabzon deputy Koray Aydın has been preparing for the current leadership race for four years. Explaining why the Trabzon provincial congress election has not been held with the possibility of full delegate support for Aydın, Evirgen said: “If the Trabzon congress is not held within two weeks, a contentious race for the post of chairman will take place, because Bahçeli would have prevented 14 votes from Trabzon to be cast for Koray Aydın. However, if the party’s leadership is reduced to calculating 14 votes, this means that it is in a really difficult situation. This might prevent the congress from staging a democratic leadership race.”
Three other former MHP deputies have also announced their candidacy apart from İrbeç and Aydın: former İstanbul deputy Ahmet Çakar, former Yozgat deputy Mesut Tüker and former Kayseri deputy Seyfi Şahin. İsmail Hakkı Küpçü, who also announced his candidacy, stated that he has been involved in the nationalist movement since 1969 and once served as a member of the party’s Central Executive Board (MYK).
‘Democratic leadership race to be held in congress’
MHP Deputy Chairman Emin Haluk Ayhan told Sunday’s Zaman that anyone can be a candidate for the leadership role. He stated that the Nov. 4 congress will be a democratic one and that the completed provincial congresses were proof of this.
Ayhan said: “We didn’t call all the chairmanship candidates to Ankara to determine a single candidate during the provincial congresses this year. Four or five candidates came out from each congress. A democratic process was held during each of these provincial congresses. We are now preparing for the Nov. 4 congress. Everyone can be a candidate, but everything should be conducted in accordance with nationalist ideals and in a well-mannered way. You can announce your candidacy but don’t let the people around you speak for you. You should say what you want to say in a clear and concise manner. This is very important.”
Multiple candidates for leadership of MHP result of party dynamism
Noting that the emergence of numerous candidates in the MHP leadership race stems from what he called a “great dynamism” of the party’s grass roots, Vedat Bilgin - - the former advisor of MHP leader Bahçeli - - said the dynamic grass roots of the party nominate an alternative chairman based on the belief that the Turkish opposition is not truly represented by the current leadership. He added that no one nominates a chairman without a reason.
Stating that a multiple candidacy is something that the party presidency desires, Bilgin further stated: “There are over 1,000 MHP delegates. One has to receive at least half of the votes to be party chairman. Multiple candidacies means the intra-party opposition groups that are against Bahçeli will be divided. Naturally the party presidency has the power to receive more than half of the votes.”
Pointing to the fact that nationalism and conservatism develop along the same social base in Turkey, Bilgin further said: “Because a nationalist party that can meet the needs of Turkey has not politically existed from the beginning of the 21st century, there is a pursuit of this at the party base,” adding: “We will have a chance to see how this pursuit will end up and how it will reflect on the ballot boxes in the coming months. Nationalists and conservatives will flock to any party that has solutions to the current problems of Turkey.” He added that this could be the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) or an alternative party. He speculated that a better alternative could emerge from the MHP but argued that their display of opposition up until today has not been able to represent the demands of their base.