Tanil Bora: The Center Shifted to the MHP

[FBIS Translated Text] The curiosity related to the near and medium-term future of the MHP [Nationalist Action Party] is summed up in the question repeated for almost five years: "Did the party change or not?" If we elaborate on this a bit more: Is the MHP (its definition changing according to the nature or character of the members) emerging from its fascist/radical/fanatic/extremist/peripheral structure to become a centrist party? Furthermore: Is the MHP the new owner of the center right in the political coordinates?

For a long time there has been a persistent effort in the media to answer these questions along the lines of the "MHP has changed." The MHP, on the one hand, says (in the words of the MHP leader himself) that it "has not changed." On the other hand, receiving praise and being pleasant is attractive for the party. Thus, it is swinging between these two different postures.
It will be useful to define what has changed and what has not changed in the MHP by being concrete and selective. Changes in the MHP are essentially related to objective conditions, that is, the changes in the structure of politics in Turkey. What are these changes?

(1) Politics has become media-focused and acquired a character resembling "public relations" activities. A magical power is attributed in politics to "forming an image," making the organization, members, and program secondary. The MHP is also adopting showcase arrangements in accordance with this method and makes an effort to show that the MHP conforms to the current "values."

(2) In parallel with the increase in the "undecided" and "fickle" mass of voters, a loose base allowing sympathizers with "limited responsibility" who do not want a definite commitment has also influenced the MHP. A large potential of sympathizers ("pop idealism") has been added to the MHP's "firm" member-organization backbone that "consumes" the party's symbols and slogans in a sort of customer-consumer relationship, but does not perceive this relationship as an integral tie completely determining their identity and giving direction to their life.

(3) The state policy centered around the NSC [National Security Council], first, made an intensive, aggressive and high-powered nationalism dominate the political environment. Although the Kurdish problem seems to have been overcome, at least for the present, and nationalistic alarmism thus curbed, this has not lifted the tight lid clamped on politics by a strong perception of threat and chronic state of vigilance. This situation contributed to the MHP's (with its corporateness now coming before its ideology) "automatically" moving to the center. Secondly, the "will" centered around the NSC has dominated the political scene, giving the sense that strategic decisions are everything, and this has reduced the initiatives of the parties to a minimum; the political claims, programs, and ideologies unique to the parties have blurred and evaporated. This situation has served the MHP in that it is conducive to getting results with identities, images, and slogans rather than concrete programs.

Resemblance to the Center Right
We can roughly summarize this picture as the center shifting to the MHP and not the MHP shifting to the center! The MHP rather than being the perpetrator of this change is in the position of being subjected to it. The objective developments have provided the opportunity for the MHP to resemble the center-right parties. The other side of this process is that the center-right parties resemble the MHP (remember that the DYP [True Path Party] of the 1990s was as "fascist" as the MHP).
What the MHP management has done since [Alpaslan] Turkes is to adapt to this change. Bahceli's success has come about through fitting Turkes' excessively "imposing" initiative fitting it into a scale that could be tolerated by the party base and organization.

What Has Not Changed?
Although the MHP has gradually been carried away by the media-focused image technology, it is also committed to a firm client-based policy. The membership-organization backbone and the intensive network of face-to-face relations that burst their seams in the last election are factors of the relative superiority of the MHP, especially in the "other Turkey" (to use the popular expression of recent days) and the MHP would not want to lose this advantage. The passionate addiction of the party base for "power" and especially its concrete needs, primarily economic, make it difficult for the MHP to play politics on a basis that is "completely cleansed" of the party base. This constraint pushes and will continue to push the MHP toward a militant membership and partisan management rather than specific political-ideological demands.
The staff-grass roots dynamic on which the MHP is based exists in a mass spirit that is trained to perceive what they consider rivals as "internal enemies" in the gravitational field of nationalistic heroism, ready "to be provoked" and when "provoked" justifying lynching-style aggressiveness. This potential is not limited to the "Idealist Hearths" occasionally referred to as the center of "fanaticism." This fascist potential is not directly and solely under the guidance of the MHP, but has a "real" relationship and communication with the MHP and leads what has not changed in the MHP.

MHP's Historical Function
A unique (historical) function of the MHP is to be a kind of mediator between the system/center and this membership-base structure,this "mass spirit" (which,depending on how you look at it, could also appear to be the "national will"). The experience of a power partnership and its difficulties has made this function even more evident and critical. Those who speak with the "voice of the party base" make fun of the present situation saying, "During 12 September our minds were in power, but our bodies were in prison. Now we are in power, but our minds are in prison." The party management says that the coalition partnership is essentially a first experience for "getting the MHP used to the system" and recommends patience by saying that the MHP's true performance will be revealed when it comes to power on its own.

Strategic Target to Preserve 15 Percent of Vote
To be in power ("in the state") is vitally important both symbolically and financially, and it means a rather long laundry list of patience and concessions. Suffice it to say that the position of power should make it possible for the symbolic and material gains to counterbalance the concessions. In material gains, especially from the viewpoint of the medium-level staff members, the situation does not look bad at all! As for symbolic gains, the MHP is handling the situation with relatively weak thrusts, such as the show of a "principled attitude related to corruption,". far from satisfying the "doctrinary" and "activist" enthusiasm that addresses the sympathizer-voter base rather than the party membership.

Degeneration, Corruption
The strategic goal of the MHP is to consolidate its voter potential at around 14-15 percent. The way to accomplish this is to secure the loose sympathizer-voter potential without damaging the "motivation" of the party membership base. The solution to this problem is going to take even more effort, if one considers that the "pop idealist" wave has decreased from its peak of the 1990s.
The MHP is struggling with this dilemma on the eve of an exciting grand congress. The top party management must be hoping that a classic center right will emerge from the yeast of combining new member registration with the competition at the congress and that the shopping policy (clientelism) will open doors to finding a suitable middle road. The congress competition, meanwhile, brings with it the dangers of "dilution" and "going astray" (as regards the party membership and the "cause") on the one hand, and the danger of burying the organization in an internal power struggle on the other hand. This tension will continue, "until kingdom come".

(from:Milliyet (Ankara edition), 25 August 2000)