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Turkish nationalists form new party challenging Erdogan

Chase Winter
October 25, 2017

A dissident wing of Turkey's ultra-nationalist party has unveiled a new breakaway movement which aims to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The "Good Party" may poach votes from three other parties.

Meral Aksener Türkei Opposition
Image: Getty Images/A.Altan

After months of preparation, 61-year-old Meral Aksener, a former interior minister, registered "Iyi Parti," or "Good Party," in Ankara on Wednesday.

Aksener is a sharp critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accusing them of undermining democracy, the judiciary, security and the economy – all points she hit on while unveiling the party program.

The center-right party is secular, conservative and nationalist, filling a place in the political spectrum that could poach votes from the Islamist-nationalist AKP, secular main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

MHP falls apart

Alongside several other prominent members of the MHP, Aksener was kicked out of the party last year after they sought to unseat the party leader Devlet Bahceli at a party congress.

Türkei Ankara MHP
Devlet Bahceli. an ally of Erdogan, has led the MHP for 20 years. Image: Reuters/File Photo/Osman Orsal

The attempt to replace Bahceli was ultimately blocked by the courts and government, prompting Aksener to accuse Erdogan of interfering through the judiciary and police to block a leadership change.

Divisions within the MHP emerged as the party bled support under Bahceli, who allied with Erdogan to rewrite the constitution and implement a presidential system. Aksener promises to return Turkey to a parliamentary system from the presidential system passed in a controversial referendum in April. 

In the months leading up to Wednesday's announcement of a new party, several prominent MHP members defected to her side, as did hundreds of party members active at the local level. A number of CHP politicians have also defected to the new party. 

Prepping for elections 

The "Good Party" will be gearing up for local elections scheduled for March 2019, followed by elections in November to choose the national parliament and president.

Turkey: A year after the attempted coup

The MHP and AKP share a Turkish nationalist and conservative constituency that overlaps geographically in the Black Sea, central Anatolia, Ankara and Istanbul.

The "Good Party" is likely to pull votes away from the MHP, casting into doubt whether the ultra-nationalist party will be able to clear the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.  

The MHP suffered a devastating blow in November 2015 elections, losing nearly half its seats and barely getting over the 10 percent hurdle.

The "Good Party" may also get votes from AKP supporters or win protest votes from its detractors in the opposition, who are concerned over the political and economic direction of the country under Erdogan.

Read more: Human rights activists, Amnesty heads go on trial in Turkey

Founded in 1969, the MHP has a dark and violent history against leftists and Kurds, with some likening its Grey Wolves armed wing to a fascist movement.

The "Good Party" manifesto fails to mention the Kurds, underlining its Turkish nationalist stance. It extensively covers women's rights.