ANKARA: The leader of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli — a coalition ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — escalated his criticism of the country’s handful of remaining democratic institutions on Wednesday, calling for the closure of the Turkish Constitutional Court.
Bahceli also targeted a number of dissident Turkish journalists, listing their full names and claiming they are supporters of the CHP.
Bahceli’s remarks coincided with the publication of the US State Department’s latest annual country reports, in which Turkey was criticized for arbitrary killings, torture and restrictions on free speech, emphasizing the country’s democratic backsliding and poor human rights record.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the US report “unfounded” and “biased.” No official government reaction to Bahceli’s statements has yet been disclosed.
Bahceli reacted furiously to the constitutional court’s decision to return to the prosecutor an indictment seeking to ban the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), because of procedural flaws.
On March 17, prosecutor Bekir Sahin filed an indictment to ban the HDP — the third largest party in the Turkish parliament — and its more than 600 members over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Banning the HDP has been a longtime goal of the MHP, but 71.8 percent of respondents in Kurdish-majority regions in southeastern and eastern Turkey oppose the move, according to a survey conducted between March 18 and March 21 by the Diyarbakir-based Socio-Political Field Research Center.
“It is understood that the Constitutional Court is indifferent and far distanced from Turkey’s fight against terrorism and separatism,” Bahceli said in a written statement on March 31. “Like the HDP’s closure, the closure of the Constitutional Court should also now be a nondeferrable target.”
“Bahceli’s track record indicates we shouldn’t ever take him lightly,” tweeted journalist Ragip Soylu in response.
Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, thinks that Bahceli is currently desperate because his voter base is shifting towards the IYI (Good) Party, a party formed in 2017 by politicians defecting from the MHP and the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), to challenge Erdogan through a conservative, center-right, secular, nationalist agenda.
“Since the IYI Party has become a bigger player in the Turkish nationalistic scene, thanks to the leadership style of its president Meral Aksener, Bahceli thinks that by adopting a very hardline attitude on the Kurdish issue and on the (Constitutional) Court he can prevent the migration of his voters,” Cagaptay told Arab News.
The IYI Party is expected to take a significant amount of votes away from the MHP in the next election, scheduled for 2023. A poll released on Thursday showed that 14 percent of the electorate would vote for the IYI Party against 9.4 percent for the MHP. To be represented in parliament, political parties must receive at least 10 percent of the vote.
According to Cagaptay, Bahceli will likely adopt an even more hardline stance on Kurdish identity to appeal to right-wing voters. The MHP has a violent political history of being staunchly opposed to Kurds and leftists, supported by an ultra-nationalist armed wing known as the Grey Wolves.
“But the issue in Turkey no longer revolves around the Kurdish conflict, but rather around being pro- or anti-Erdogan,” said Cagaptay. “And it is clear that Bahceli’s support base doesn’t approve of his electoral alliance with Erdogan.”
Bahceli’s latest remarks also drew ire from the opposition, with former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is now head of the breakaway Future Party, saying: “Declaring the Constitutional Court as an ‘institution that needs to be shut’ is the greatest blow that can be inflicted on democracy.”
In a video statement, Davutoglu also warned that unless political parties and activists release a statement to support the Constitutional Court, “a process which none of us will approve of will take us to an authoritarian regime in which democracy is completely discounted.”