With nineteen days left until the election, a new development is taking place in the AKP – MHP partnership making up the People’s Alliance that could well be interpreted as preparation for the second round. The AKP has begun to calculate the size of the vote that will come from the MHP, which has yet to start campaigning, to the alliance and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
There is no tradition in the MHP, even in election periods, of gauging its share of the vote through polls. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli also has a long-standing aversion to polling as a method. The AKP, conversely, prefers to make all its moves in line with the results of polls it commissions. Despite polls showing the results on a knife edge and a high likelihood of a second round, the AKP has made statements that Erdoğan will win in the first round and its own vote in the parliamentary elections is in the 46% band. However, AKP spokespersons notably refrain from providing information about their alliance partner, the MHP, in their pronouncements. Meanwhile, two important developments have taken place that have impelled the AKP into making polls and measurements that could be called a kind of “inspection” of their alliance partner.
Concern over swing votes
The talk in the AKP and MHP lobbies was that the initial large fall in the MHP’s vote had halted at a certain point immediately before the decision was taken for an early election on 24 June. Following the decamping of virtually half the party to Meral Akşener’s Good Party, it was starting to poll better, even if marginally. However, data emanating from polling institutions suggested that these increased votes were coming from the AKP itself and not the opposition. This confirmed impressions from the field that the votes dubbed the “white wolves” that had swung from the MHP to the AKP in the 1 November elections were to an extent returning. With no new votes coming from outside and votes swinging within the alliance, the need arose within the AKP to make sense of the situation. The AKP, which had set the bar for itself of 301, one more than half, in parliament, felt impelled to measure whether it fell short of this target with the addition of the votes cast for the MHP.
Ever since he decided on an early election, Erdoğan has faced the problem of voters within the AKP who will vote for him in the presidential election but will not vote for the party.
Effort to pin down the number
Erdoğan made reference to the existence of this problem by saying, “Some people are stirring the pot. ‘I’ll vote for the president but I won’t vote for the AKP in parliament.’ This is a game; this is a machination. You realise who they are. God willing, we’ll all bury this gang of backbiters in the ground on 24 June”
However, this problem of which Erdoğan speaks with reference to his own party takes the exact opposite form in the MHP. This second development that has impelled the AKP to engage in “intra-alliance accounting” is the campaign that certain MHP people have launched calling for a vote for their own party but not for Erdoğan. This campaign was initially waged silently and surreptitiously within the MHP. News of this campaign, which was also announced by certain MHP parliamentarians who were not seeking re-election, winning over nearly half of MHP voters came as a further source of concern to the AKP. The AKP set out to discover the number of MHP supporters who would vote for their party but not Erdoğan.
Preparation for the second round?
With Bahçeli continuing to insist on an amnesty to which the AKP does not give its blessing, his failure to have yet started campaigning and the inactivity of MHP people out on the stump is another reason that is impelling the AKP to measure its partner’s standing. However, a connection is also being drawn in the political lobbies between the need felt to measure and assess its partner’s performance and the risk it attaches to the first round. Accordingly, the AKP is inspecting the MHP’s standing to inform its preparations of a new gambit for the second round by way of plan B.