Power play in Ankara: Bahçeli’s influence on Erdoğan

Fearing that he could exclude the MHP, Bahçeli is trying to influence Erdoğan at his most sensitive point and attempting to pull the president towards his own settings by using the narrative of a “new coup plot.”The phrase “Fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech” belongs to French philosopher Roland Barthes.Whether out of genuine necessity or strategic maneuvering, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli’s recent remarks, stating that “he smells coup plot” by linking the ongoing Ayhan Bora Kaplan gang investigation by the Ministry of Interior on May 14th with the Sinan Ateş murder probe, have sparked widespread speculation among pro-government commentators, who are now uniformly suggesting the emergence of a fresh “coup plot” conspiracy.The narrative that Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would return to its founding settings of 2002 seemed to be imperiled by this.This narrative was also echoed by President Tayyip Erdoğan in his address to the AKP Parliamentary Group on May 15th. Those who had hope that the AKP would return to “more libertarian and democratic factory settings” after the March 31st elections found their expectations misplaced. The AKP is not returning to factory settings, it appears that Erdoğan recalibrating his stance in line with Bahçeli’s settings.Erdoğan’s recent reiteration of the need to resist “bureaucratic tutelage” after years is noteworthy. This time, the blame was shifted to Islamic organizations within the state, particularly the Nurcu faction’s “Okuyucular” (Readers) wing. As if the four police officers detained within the scope of Kaplan probe which initially ignited the discussion of “plot”, were fairies and genies who rose to the highest ranks of the Police after the purge of Gülenists following the 2016 coup attempt.Bahçeli’s settings, Kavala moveFor weeks, there had been talk of the retrial of the Kavala case, and the possibility of the Gezi Park events being revisited through the request for a retrial by Osman Kavala’s lawyers. The issue was first brought up by journalist Abdülkadir Selvi, who provided insights from within the AKP, in Hürriyet.The issue was also raised by CHP leader Özgür Özel during his meeting with President Erdoğan on May 2. Figures from within the AKP such as Tuğrul Türkeş and Mehmet Metiner supported the “retrial” for Kavala, but Erdoğan’s advisors Mehmet Uçum and MHP’s Hüseyin Özkan opposed it.Subsequently, with the change in the composition of the panel of judges overseeing Kavala’s case, optimistic speculations in the media were dampened. Unfortunately, on the day Erdoğan alligned with Bahçeli’s settings, the panel of judges unanimously rejected the request for retrial without considering the decisions of the Constitutional Court or the ECHR. Just the day before, Bahçeli had vilified the Gezi protesters as “Soros’s children.”Kobani, Sinan Ateş, Kaplan GangOn the same day as Bahçeli, CHP leader Özgür Özel also mentioned about the Kobani trial to be held on May 16 stating that the main opposition would closely monitor the trial with a delegation, expressing hope for a positive outcome, mentioning Selahattin Demirtaş as well.However, amidst escalating tensions after recent developments, predicting a favorable outcome for the defendants becomes increasingly challenging, hinting at Bahçeli’s influence in the proceedings.Referring to the recent developments over the past few days, it could be said that the turning point is the fact that the investigation into the murder of Sinan Ateş has reached the indictment stage, and similarly, the Kaplan Gang investigation is linked to the change of testimony of a gang member who was made a confessor.Following these developments, Bahçeli went to Presidential Complex on May 10 and spoke with Erdoğan for an hour. The course of events changed after this meeting. (I won’t go into the details of the long-awaited election of Ömer Kerkez as the President of the Court of Cassation, which happened during this time; Erdoğan also appointed his rival Muhsin Şentürk as the Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation.) Allegations bordering on “Gülenism” made about Sinan Ateş’s wife Ayşe Ateş’s statements. Police officials investigating the Kaplan Gang arrested.This brought the discussion to Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya.Is Yerlikaya being targeted?Yerlikaya has been at the forefront in the fight against gangs and mafias since he was appointed Interior Minister by Erdoğan in June 2023. Progress was made in three files in particular. One of them is the crackdown on international mafias and their collaborators who have settled in Turkey; this is not directly related to our topic, some of these operations had already started during Süleyman Soylu’s term. The ones that are relevant to our topic are the Sinan Ateş murder and the Kaplan Gang investigations.According to CHP leader Özel, these two cases are raising tensions in Turkey. On the evening when Bahçeli claimed that these two cases were a “plot” to sow discord within the People’s Alliance, news emerged that the President had summoned Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç and MIT Director İbrahim Kalın to Presidential Complex. The manipulation element in this news was the phrase “Yerlikaya was not summoned.”However, even if the pieces were put together, it could be seen that the issue was related to the “influence agent” included in the 9th Judicial Package recently submitted to the new Grand National Assembly and the topic of “informant citizens” who had caused much harm in previous years. Bahçeli had also added a intimidation of journalists regarding this package.In response, Yerlikaya, before Erdoğan’s speech in the Parliament, released a message in a tone that said, “Hands reaching out to the President will be broken.”Return to Bahçeli’s settingsIt wouldn’t be wrong to say that in the People’s Alliance, is as strong as “ten tigers” in Bahçeli setting as in the famous “Red Mask” comic.It’s clear that Bahçeli prefers the suspected political connections behind the Sinan Ateş and Kaplan Gang investigations are not delved much into. It’s not the first time that the leader of the MHP, who said “Don’t interfere with the judiciary” when the retrial of Kavala was requested, has issued instructions to the courts on issues within his area of interest.So, do you think Bahçeli is pleased with Erdoğan’s dialogue with CHP leader Özel, his frequent references to normalization, and his beginning to frame the issue of constitutional change within that context? I doubt it. Because the conditions for the CHP to start talking about the Constitution – for example, as in the Kavala/Gezi trial – are diminishing. But beyond that, it’s clear that the CHP will start talking about changing the Presidential Government System through a system where parliament and the judiciary are strengthened.This is Bahçeli’s nightmare. Because with such a change, the MHP’s ability to enjoy all the benefits of power without sharing the responsibility of the government would end.Therefore, Bahçeli wants to pull Erdoğan back to his settings with conspiracy theories. As of yesterday, the emerging picture shows that progress has begun to be made in this direction.

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