A Possible Game Changer in Turkey’s Presidential Race: The She-Wolf of MHP

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Meral Akşener at Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Turkey will go to polls to choose its first elected president on the 10th of August and still no party officially announced any candidates yet. Rumors are a lot, though. It is considered almost certain that PM Erdoğan will run for president. Whereas what the opposition’s choice will be remains more mysterious. The idea of a common candidate endorsed by both Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the hope of many who are weary of Erdoğan’s increasingly egoistical and authoritarian rule. Among the possible candidates mentioned, one name seems more distinctive than the others: Meral Akşener.

Undoubtedly, Akşener, currently serving as Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, is the best option of MHP. She is so adored by her party’s base that some even see her as their next leader. She is nicknamed Asena, that is, according to Turkic mythology, the female wolf that led the Turks out of their legendary homeland of Ergenekon. Unlike most Turkish female politicians, she doesn’t owe her position to male guilt of extremely male-dominated Turkish politics, or shallow and symbolic PR attempts to gain women’s votes. A historian by training, she holds a Ph.D and worked as an academician at three different universities. She has been actively in politics since 1994. She was the right hand of Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first and to date the only female Prime Minister, and served as Minister of Internal Affairs in her government.

Gender, Modesty and Balkans

She was born in İzmit but her parents are from Drama, Greece. And there has always been a sense of solidarity among the Turks originating from Rumeli that is the European part of the Ottoman Empire. It is hard to give a number but suffice to say that they comprise of a good percentage of the country’s population. Akşener is likely to enjoy their support, if she decides to run for president. Also she addresses women quite masterly. Being able to hold key positions as a woman in Turkey’s harsh and male-dominated political climate has to inspire a special admiration among women. In an interview to daily Vatan in 2007, she described herself as an “ordinary, average Turkish woman”. She has lived a rather modest life, stayed with her husband’s crowded family in the same house for 12 years.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

Akşener visiting Tatarstan.

MHP-CHP Alliance?

CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu dismissed the rumors that his party has decided to nominate Akşener but it is unclear whether they made up their minds on the matter. The official results of the 30th March local elections reveal that MHP and CHP have to partner up, if they have a hope of preventing Erdoğan from becoming Turkey’s worryingly strong president as described by his Putin admirer advisor Yiğit Bulut. There are signs that there could be co-operation between MHP and CHP. For example MHP’s leader Devlet Bahçeli talked of a candidate that addresses the all segments of the society and CHP’s leader seems to be open to the idea of nominating someone outside of his party. But the steps -if they are steps- are too slow, too little.

CHP understands that it doesn’t have much chance to consolidate wide support as a party that emphasizes its leftism. That’s why, wisely, it nominated Mansur Yavaş -a former member of MHP- for Mayor of Ankara and almost got the city. Seeing the perks of going a little right, CHP is likely to endorse or nominate a candidate from the right.

In case of a MHP-CHP partnership, HDP -the new pro-Kurdish party- could stand out as the player holding the key to the country’s future. Naturally, they would never support a Turkish nationalist candidate. However, depending on the AKP’s attitude towards the peace process with terrorist PKK, they may support Erdoğan. But HDP’s support could also prove problematic as it carries the possibility of upsetting nationalists thinking to vote for Erdoğan.

Consequently, Turkey’s opposition needs a presidential candidate that could unify non-AKP right and CHP, and also steal votes from AKP. I think, Meral Akşener, arguably the most influential female politician in the country, is the best option of not only her own party but also other opposition parties. With good campaigning and co-operation among opposition parties, she could become Turkey’s Margaret Thatcher and prevent Erdoğan from becoming its Vladimir Putin.

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