Barçın Yinanç - Hürriyet Daily News / Istanbul, June 1 () - Nationalist-conservative voters have been disappointed that values vital to them have been eroded by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to a candidate from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The nationalist-conservatives are now deserting the ruling party, claims Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who ran as a joint candidate of the MHP and the Republican People Party (CHP) during the last presidential elections.
As a person who has built his career on international platforms, how do you conduct your campaign? Do you mainly focus on foreign policy issues?
I talk about it when there is a question. But people are tremendously concerned about the issue of Syrian refugees. There is huge unemployment and adding 2 million refugees to the already existing unemployed masses creates a big problem. In addition, people are feeling insecure. There is serious anxiety over the civil wars going on in our neighbors.
But the biggest cause of concern is the economic difficulty. The AKP aimed at abolishing corruption, poverty and bans. But corruption and poverty have increased; so have the bans. The enacted draconian laws which transfer the power from the judiciary to the police are creating concerns among citizens.
Do you claim that the MHP is less prone to advocate limiting freedoms? Looking at its election manifesto, there is no mention of the Kurdish issue. Instead is the promise to revise laws that are claimed to have weakened the fight against terror. That does not give the impression that the MHP will have a more democratic, liberal vision.
The struggle against terrorists is obviously a vital issue for Turkey’s security and integrity. With the turmoil in our environment and a disintegrated Iraq and a disintegrating Syria, the danger of Turkey’s disintegration is very serious. In certain Eastern provinces, security forces cannot come out of their premises. There are some special administrations established; there are special courts, taxes are collected. The states sovereignty is being eroded. We need to pull the nation together. It is obviously not the aim of the MHP to narrow fundamental rights and freedoms. The MHP is committed to establishing the supremacy of law and respecting rights and freedoms. Endorsing and implementing of the [EU’s] Copenhagen criteria will only be possible with the MHP in government.
Turkey’s most important problem is the Kurdish issue. There is emphasis to cultural rights among the Copenhagen criteria. Yet the MHP promises to stop the Kurdish process; in which sense does this promise overlap with the Copenhagen criteria?
No one claims that this process is being conducted with the Copenhagen criteria. This is a negotiation known to a few people. There is a problem in that region. But there are other problems in Turkey’s different geographic regions. This is how we should approach the issue. The MHP’s point of departure is the unity of the country and territorial integrity, under one flag, one official language and one educational system.
Many say that, apart from the Kurdish question, not much differentiates the two parties [AKP and MHP], saying they have the same constituency and therefore, votes can slide easily from one to another, back and forth.
There is a nationalist conservative segment in Turkey. This segment has always taken its place in a coalition of the center right. After the Sept. 12 military coup, former late president Turgut Özal formed a party saying he united four political trends. When he left the party to become the president, that coalition dissolved. In 2002 a similar umbrella was formed. The votes of the nationalists/conservatives went to the AKP. There was also [in that coalition] the national view [Islamists] as well as the social democrats. They all started to split. Liberals have left and now, it is the turn of the nationalists/conservatives to desert. Because they understood that two important values have been eroded. The first one is nationalism. There were never strong references to the word “Turk” or Turkishness. Second, religious values. The examples using religion for personal interests can no longer be hidden. Conservatives have left the AKP and the address of this segment is the MHP. We see that.
The president lately claimed that the head of Diyanet [Directorate of Religious Affairs] is a religious leader of not only Turkey but also the region. What would you say to that as a person who knows the region?
I have a lot of respect for that institution. You can promote an institution by respecting it, not by showing it differently than what it is. It is sad for the country that the Vatican is denying statements that the Pope has a private plane. They say the Pope rents a plane and all accompanying him pay for their tickets. This is a huge lesson for us. The first we started to confuse everything and we try to promote our institutions by wrong comparisons and baseless claims.
Secondly, when the Pope came as a head of state to Turkey, he refused to use a luxurious car and preferred a modest one. He wanted to give us and especially the people of religion a lesson.
The MHP uses concepts like regional leader power and global actor in its election manifesto. The AKP uses similar concepts. What’s the difference?
Being a regional power is a responsibility dictated to Turkey by its geography, geo-strategies and history. This is a given. The problem is how to best benefit from this given fact and get results using the right instruments. How can you do that? You can’t do that by looking down upon others and saying, “I will rule the region.” It’s based on two principles: mutual respect and interests.
On a third dimension, it is to try to solve contentions with a joint will and wisdom. It is to avoid taking sides. This is what you should do when you say regional power.
But the MHP says regional leader power.
I read it as a regional power. And as to becoming a global actor, when you resolve disputes and maintain stability in your region, that outcome takes you to further dimensions.
İhsanoğlu was the joint candidate of the MHP and Republican People’s Party (CHP) at the 2014 presidential elections. Istanbul