Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) is a far-right, nationalist party with a platform that emphasizes pan-Turkic nationalism. Party leader Devlet Bahçeli has led the party since 1997, elected after the death of the movement’s founder, Alparslan Türkeş. Bahçeli’s popularity has declined considerably in recent months, following his handling of coalition negotiations with Turkey’s other main political parties after the inconclusive June 2015 elections. Turkey’s most popular political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), managed to regain its majority in an early election held in November. The MHP’s share of seats declined considerably during this time period, with the party winning just under 12 percent of the vote in the November election, which equates to 40 seats in parliament. Of the four major parties, the MHP now has the smallest number of seats in the parliament.

This setback has allowed for seven party members to challenge Bahçeli’s leadership. The seven candidates have used the courts and internal party rules to force the holding of an early party congress. As of now, these seven “rebels” will attend a congress on July 10 and intend to hold a vote on a new leader, despite a recent ruling from Turkey’s High Electoral Board that such action will have no standing. Bahçeli has agreed to the July 10 Congress, but has said that there will not be a vote on a change to his leadership. The earliest such a vote could be held, according to Bahçeli, is 2019. The seven “rebels” have continued their campaign and at certain events, violence between MHP factions has broken out. The MHP is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing on the seven insurgents, leading some to speculate that the party could split.

This election also has national implications: The AKP and its de-facto leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, benefit politically from a weak MHP, and therefore have an incentive for Bahçeli to remain in power. The most popular of the seven insurgents, Meral Akşener, has some name recognition amongst the Turkish electorate and could increase the party’s popularity nationally, which would have the tangential effect of attracting support from elements of the AKP’s current voter base.

This change could impact the AKP’s efforts to pass a new constitution, which requires the AKP to either get the support of 13 opposition MPs in parliament to hold a referendum, or to hold an early election to try and pick up the number of seats required to pass a constitution (330 seats) without support from the political opposition. Thus, many are looking at the MHP race to get a better sense about the AKP’s next electoral move: If Bahçeli remains in power – or the party splits –  and the party’s overall support drops below the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, the AKP could choose to schedule an early election. However, if Akşener or one of the other six insurgents manages to take control of the party – and therefore increase its popular appeal – the AKP would lose one viable political route to win the number of required seats in parliament to draft and pass a constitution.

The infographic below provides a brief description of each candidate, before the scheduled July 10 party congress.

Click to enlarge 

MHP