Yetkin: Erdogan under the tutelage of ultranationalist Bahceli

By Murat Yetkin
24 November 2020

Bülent Arınç, a founding member of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), wants to meet with him before deciding on whether he will resign. We found through Murat Çelik’s reporting. Let’s recall; President Tayyip Erdogan had made promises of reform after his son-in-law Berat Albayrak left the Ministry of Treasury and Finance. When Bülent Arınç, a member of the Presidential High Advisory Board, brought up the trials of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, Erdoğan reacted.

The same evening, journalist İsmail Saymaz stated that a high-level member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) declared Arınç’s “protection removed, ticket cut, at last”.

Addressing the MHP Group the next morning on November 24, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli spoke heavier words.

  • “It is distorted, even foolish in the literals sense, of a former politician included in the Presidency’s High Advisory Board, to go on television and praise Soros-backed Osman Kavala and terrorist Selahattin Demirtaş.”

Bahçeli was calling Arınç, considered one of the three AKP pillars along with Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, “foolish.” He was speaking though he wanted his head on a plate.

Soon after, another blow came. This time from Mehmet Ali Şahin, who was a member of the High Advisory Board like Arınç. He accused Arınç of bringing issues of the inside out in the open.
A few hours later, Arınç resigned.

Bahçeli tutelage over Erdoğan? 

Erdogan is a leader who built his whole political line on “being against tutelage”. He had never hidden his goal of destroying the tutelage of the military, the university, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, or the so-called interest rate lobby.

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But at the point we’re in, there is a strong impression that Erdogan is under the tutelage of MHP leader Devlet Bahceli.

When far-right mob leader Alaattin Çakıcı attacked Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Devlet Bahçeli supported the former, İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener’s interpretation was: “Bahçeli’s main target is Erdoğan, he does not want reform.” The developments seem to confirm this.

Bahçeli wants to make sure that when Erdogan talks reform, he means token measures and nothing more. That is because Bahçeli does not wish the slightest change in the Presidential Government System (PGS). He looks out to this system more than Erdogan does. Indeed, the President has options for different scenarios to stay in power without Bahçeli, perhaps even without much altering the PGS. Bahçeli, on the other hand, needs Erdoğan. That is if he wants to continue being the de facto ruling partner without taking any responsibility. And this is what Erdoğan does not want to see.

But Erdoğan turned towards a more reformist atmosphere, and Arınç pronounced two prohibited names: Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, both of whom are in prison. This grew MHP’s concerns.

In need of serious reform 

Following former Treasury and Finance minister Berat Albayrak’s resignation, Lütfi Elvan had replaced him. We have said before that this was also a tactical move to appease the “discontent” within AKP. That is, those who could go the DEVA or the Future Party. Arınç’s resignation is bound to increase the disturbance. Because AKP members now have alternatives. And they can go to those, to then get a title. They could even become a ruling partner to Erdogan thanks to the 50 + 1 system.

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Amid this situation, Elvan announced that they would hold a meeting with the capital holders for economic reform preparations. At the time of the statement, the dollar had started rising again due to the scandal of EU warships stopping and searching without warrant a Turkish ship going to Libya. “What could happen?” I asked one of my sources in the business world. “They’ll probably cut public spending,” he said. When I asked whether this counts as a reform the answer was, “No, but what else are they going to do? The real problem is different”. What was implied were foreign policy issues. If this course in Turkey’s relation to the US and the EU goes on, the investment environment of Turkey is getting increasingly fragile. That is why Erdogan has returned to his “European” rhetoric: it stems from an obligation.

But the economy is not the only problem.

Could Erdoğan really go for reform? 

The problem is the bottleneck in politics and economics. And the administration’s swaying attitudes in efforts to overcome it.
This swaying also shows itself in the fight against Covid-19, which is wreaking havoc. The government is expressing its inability to take drastic measures as they blame it all on the lack of mask-wearing.

Somebody managed to convince the President of the need for reforms in the economy, judiciary and administration. But at the stage we’re in, there is a credibility problem.
Erdogan said that “our place in Europe”. But where does Europe see Turkey? After all, Turkey has been wanting to join the EU, not vice versa. Of course, EU leaders’ political myopia and prejudiced populism played a big part in getting to this point. No one is innocent. But here, Erdoğan is the one looking for a way out of troubles.

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The draft of the judicial reform mentioned by Erdogan will be a certain measure. But will the reforms consist of the personal rights of judges and prosecutors, and so on? Will trials continue to be held in prison, as they have been for years? Will every opposing voice continue to be accused of terrorism or espionage like in Eurasian autocracies? If that will be the case, then forget the possibility of serious reform in the economy. Or the possibility of the EU softening its approach.

That’s why Erdogan’s job is difficult. Because – let’s not put all the blame on MHP – the stakeholders of the government and other groups that can no longer use municipal resources, do not want reform or anything similar. They want the wheels to keep spinning as before. Therefore, Arınç is not the only issue – it is much deeper.

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