Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited his one-time partner, Oğuzhan Asiltürk, at his home after not seeing him even once during his 18 years in office. Asiltürk represents a minor political party that only received 1.34 percent of the vote in the last elections. With polls showing a constant decline in his voter support, Erdoğan is looking for new alliance opportunities.
Erdoğan’s contacts and meetings gained pace with the start of 2021. However, these were house visits, which is unusual. His first visit was to Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Prior to their face-to-face on Jan. 5, the two leaders had already had two meetings, one in person and one on the phone. The latest house visit was scheduled at Erdoğan’s request, and pictures of it were released by the presidential office. The meeting lasted for an hour and 10 minutes.
Since 2015 Erdoğan and Bahçeli have been linked in a strong alliance, called the Public Alliance. According to rumors circulating in Ankara, the two talked about the possibility of expanding their alliance and a possible snap election to be held in 2021.
After his meeting with Bahçeli, Erdoğan requested an appointment with Asiltürk, the head of the High Advisory Board of the Felicity Party (SP). The SP represents Milli Görüş, the precursor of Turkey’s political Islamist movement. Erdoğan’s ideology and political career matured within the Milli Görüş movement until he set up his breakaway party at the beginning of the 2000s. While the SP is led by Temel Karamollaoğlu, Asiltürk is known as a powerful figure in the party, which is arguably why Erdoğan chose to visit him.
The SP has made no public announcement of the visit. Photos taken at Asiltürk’s house were released by Erdoğan’s office, just as had happened with the visit to Bahçeli.
Erdoğan’s meltdown in polls
Speculation in Ankara suggests that Erdoğan is being pushed to look for new alliances due to the erosion of his voter base. According to a survey conducted by MetroPoll in December 2020, in a hypothetical presidential race between Erdoğan and the popular Ankara mayor, Mansur Yavaş, 43.9 percent of participants favored Yavaş while Erdoğan’s support stood at 40.7 percent.
As to support for political parties found by the survey, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 30.6 percent of the vote, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was at 20 percent, the ultranationalist İyi (Good) Party received 8.9 percent, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) stood at 8.7 percent and the MHP received 6 percent. Two breakaway parties set up by former AKP heavyweights, the DEVA Party and the Future Party (GP), garnered 1.7 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, while undecided and protest votes totaled 21.3 percent.
The poll also pointed to a serious loss of voters for the MHP as nearly half of those who voted for the nationalist Erdoğan ally in the past said they would vote for other parties today. In 2018 the MHP had received 11.1 percent of the vote, while the latest poll put it at only 6 percent. The ruling AKP, which enjoyed 42.5 percent in 2018, declined to 30.6 percent.
The AKP-MHP alliance reportedly started to look for new partners after their combined support fell below 50 percent, which is necessary for securing victory in a presidential election. Abdülkadir Selvi, a columnist close to Erdoğan, claimed that the Turkish president has started considering the smaller parties since even 1 percent of the vote counts now.
Erdoğan confirms working on alliances
Three days after the visit Erdoğan confirmed that he had met with Asiltürk to talk about a possible alliance. “I will have similar meetings in the future,” he said.
On his meeting with Bahçeli, Erdoğan said: “Our conversations with Bahçeli are nothing special. With Bahçeli we mainly talk in detail about our country’s foreign relations and its fight against terrorism.”
“We also talk about what we can do from now on and confirm our solidarity in the Public Alliance as well as our determination to carry it forward,” he said.
SP could leave the Nation Alliance
Opposing the AKP and MHP’s Public Alliance is the Nation Alliance, formed by the CHP, the İyi Party and the SP and supported from outside by the HDP.
Erdoğan’s visit to Asiltürk is presumably an attempt to break apart the Nation Alliance by luring the SP out of it. Its chairman Karamollaoğlu and Asiltürk are known to be in disagreement over several issues. Asiltürk, with his Islamist roots, has warmer feelings for Erdoğan than Karamollaoğlu.
Erdoğan wants to take advantage of this internal rift. SP sources have reported that Erdoğan instructed his office to put Asiltürk directly through to him in the event he calls.
Akşener: Erdoğan preparing for election
The İyi Party, which enjoyed the most significant surge in the polls, is led by Meral Akşener, who thinks all Erdoğan’s moves are aimed at securing a snap election victory. According to her, Erdoğan wants to face new US President Joe Biden as a re-elected leader in 2021. Akşener believes that Erdoğan is preparing for a snap election to be held in June.