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Turkey's nationalists spurn AKP before polls, eye options

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By Adrian Lancashire  with AFP
Turkey's nationalists spurn AKP before polls, eye options

Turkish nationalists have hailed Devlet Bahçeli as chief since 1997. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader took steps from the start to rehabilitate its image. Now, four months after the last legislative election, the MHP is considered the opposition party most likely to team up with the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP). Just maybe.

This year in June’s parliamentary elections, when the AKP’s 13 years of majority rule came to an end and it needed to form a coalition and failed with other parties, Bahçeli refused to go along.

He said let the AKP and left-wing HDP try, then the AKP, Republican CHP social democrats and HDP. “If that fails, then early elections must be held.” And that is what happened.

The MHP was so resolved not to pair up with the AKP that the nationalist movement ejected its founder’s son, Tugrul Turkes, when he accepted a Deputy Prime Minister position in the interim government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu this August.

Now Turkey’s third-largest political force, the nationalists are out-and-out anti-Kurd. The MHP criticised the AKP government as having paved the way for the pro-Kurdish HDP to enter parliament. After September’s deadly terrorist bombings in Ankara, nationalists attacked HDP headquarters.

Founded in 1969 and for a time described by detractors as neo-fascist, as militias assassinated left-wing figures, the far-right MHP gradually grew to appear more respectable, although leading members were imprisoned during the military junta of the 1980s.

Under Bahçeli’s leadership, the MHP has toned down ethnic nationalism in promoting a unitary Turkish state.

Observers do not rule out the self-appointed guardians of Turkish identity joining an AKP government.