Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kurtulmuş said he received a formal proposal from the prime minister for a merger. The HAS Party has yet to make a decision regarding the offer. Erdoğan received Kurtulmuş at his office in the Prime Ministry building in Ankara amidst claims that the HAS Party was planning to join the AK Party. The claims had emerged first in late June, but Kurtulmuş had denied them. Thursday's meeting lasted for over an hour.
“The prime minister said he will take his proposal [for a merger] to his party's central executive board [for a discussion]. He said a union of forces and a joint struggle [by the AK Party and HAS Party] for the construction of a new Turkey would be more favorable. I will take the proposal to my party's central executive board. I will share my party's opinion and decision [about the merger] after an intraparty discussion,” Kurtulmuş told reporters.
He added that neither his meeting with the prime minister nor plans for a merging of the two parties is aimed at ensuring a “stronger political seat” for himself. “None of us [HAS Party members] have expectations for a seat or a title. All of Turkey knows this. We will discuss whether a merger is possible in line with our party’s principles for the construction of a stronger Turkey. Then we will share our decision with our people in a transparent manner,” Kurtulmuş added.
Kurtulmuş founded the HAS Party in late 2010 after resigning from the Felicity Party (SP) due to a long-standing intraparty rift. Erdoğan’s AK Party appeals to the same constituent base as the HAS Party as it emerged from the predecessor of the SP, the Virtue Party (FP). Mehmet Bekaroğlu, İstanbul provincial head of HAS Party, expressed his displeasure over Kurtulmuş’s meeting with the prime minister, saying in a Twitter post that he had “previously told Mr. Kurtulmuş that he would be making a mistake by holding talks with the prime minister.” Bekaroğlu also wrote, “And I have personally bid good bye to him.” The provincial head is expected to announce his resignation from his position at a press conference scheduled for today.
The prime minister’s proposal to the HAS Party leader for a merger was met with appreciation by several academics and politicians. Professor Vedat Bilgin, a lecturer at Gazi University in Ankara, said he finds the proposal a “very positive development for Turkey.”
“Kurtulmuş is a very significant politician in Turkey with his experience [in politics]. His important academic research and interpretation of Turkey’s problems mean he should not be sidelined in politics,” the professor stated. Bilgin also said the HAS Party leader would make an important contribute to the ruling party with his political experience.
According to former Education Minister Vehbi Dinçerler, the HAS Party leader answer affirmatively to the prime minister’s offer for a merger. “The offer was made to a political party that does not serve in Parliament. For this reason, I believe the offer will be accepted. It [a merger] will contribute to Turkey’s stability,” he said. Dinçerler also said Erdoğan may have offered to merge the two parties in order to prevent opposition parties from nominating a “joint candidate for president” in the elections slated for 2014.
Professor Mümtaz’er Türköne, a lecturer at İstanbul’s Fatih University, agreed, and added that the AK Party is hoping to expand its “circle of sympathizers” ahead of the local polls in 2013 and the presidential elections in 2014 by adding the HAS Party and its leader to its ranks. “Kurtulmuş is one of the brilliant and respected figures amongst Turkey’s politicians. He impresses many with his stance and career,” the professor said, believing that the AK Party is poised to be stronger against its rivals with Kurtulmuş and his party on its side.
In addition, Türköne suggested that the prime minister may be seeking to fill a possible gap in strong candidates for deputies in the future elections as an AK Party bylaw does not allow deputies to serve more than three terms in office. The AK Party, which came to power in 2002 as a single-party government, is currently enjoying its third term in power. Due to the party’s bylaw, AK Party deputies who are in their third term will not be able to run for Parliament in the next general election.