ANKARA, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Turkish nationalist movement in Parliament has announced that it will unconditionally back President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the crucial upcoming presidential elections which would grant him formally sweeping powers approved in last year's referendum.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Leader Devlet Bahceli announced on Monday that his party will have no nominee for the 2019 presidential election and that they will support the re-election of Erdogan.
"MHP will have no candidate for the presidency," said Bahceli told journalists in Ankara, adding that his party will support Erdogan.
The next day he went even further offering an unlimited credit to Erdogan and said that the MHP's support will continue five years after the elections in order "to consolidate a national government."
A FIRST IN MODERN HISTORY
It's the first time in modern political history of Turkey that an opposition party offers that kind of support to a ruling party, a move that has stunned both the government and the opposition.
However, Bahceli's declaration hardly came as a surprise as his formation realigned itself with Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), after the failed coup of July 2016 aiming to topple the government.
The 2019 elections are scheduled to be held no later than November 3 and the newly-elected president will assume the role of the prime minister, as Turkey shifts to a presidential system after a referendum organized in April 2016 and narrowly won by Erdogan. Local and parliamentary elections will also be held in 2019.
MHP is a nationalist opposition party, having 36 out of 550 seats in Turkish parliament. The party lost significant blood as dissident members found a new party, Iyi Parti (Good Party), which is credited of around 15 percent of votes, according to latest surveys, and could play a deal-breaking role at the elections.
"Bahceli openly declared that his MHP would no longer run for power, but will instead prefer to be an associate of the government," told Xinhua Serkan Demirtas, Ankara office head of the Hurriyet Daily News.
According to this political commentator, this move "could well hasten the process of MHP's melting within the AKP" in a foreseeable future.
Bahceli's and his party's support for Erdogan contradicts past statements he has made about the president. He had repeatedly said that Erdogan is not fit for presidency. Erdogan and Bahceli were constantly trashing each other in front of their supporters and cameras.
"Erdogan is not fit to be the president, as fire is not ignited in the water," said Bahceli at a party convention in 2014.
Erdogan won nearly 52 percent of the vote in the 2014 presidential elections. He and the AKP have enjoyed support in large cities like Ankara and Istanbul, both in elections and the 2017 referendum that greatly empowered the presidency, weakened the prime ministry, allowed the president to remain party leader, and allowed Erdogan to possibly stay in office until 2029.
"DOMESTIC AND NATIONAL ALLIANCE"
Erdogan hailed the "national stance" taken by the MHP, noting that "those who aim to divide the nation will not achieve their ambitions." He named the alliance as "domestic and national."
Demirtas argued that the political objective of Bahceli is to depict the main opposition party, the social democratic Republican People's Party, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and the Iyi Parti as an "opposition alliance" that draws support from the followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric based in the U.S., blamed of being the mastermind of the botched coup.
President Erdogan doesn't miss a chance of branding any form of opposition to his regime as "other powers" and his narrative is always in the line of "us vs. them."
Bahceli is also looking to fend off a challenge from Meral Aksener, a prominent nationalist who is the leader of Iyi Party.
"We are aiming to reach towards the grassroots of the AKP at the next elections, we know that there are many sensible people inside this party who are concerned by the ever growing executive ambitions of Erdogan," said to Xinhua an official of Iyi Party on the condition of anonymity.
According to pro-government experts, this unprecedented nationalist alliance will force the anti-Erdogan opposition to move towards a similar partnership ahead of the elections.
"The MHP's decision to support the AKP will urge parties from the other bloc to seek an alliance among themselves," said Nebi Mis, academic at Sakarya University, quoted by the Sabah daily.
But he also underlined the difficulties in doing so because "they have different ideologies, it won't be easy for them."
"This is the most important and largest association in our history both in terms of timing and in terms of its nature. Such an effective alliance has never taken place in the recent history of the Republic of Turkey," said for his part television commentator and journalist Avni Ozgurel.
MHP and AKP have formed several committees to work towards amending the current political and election law which prohibits the existing political parties from entering elections together while keeping their political institutional identity separate.
The combative Aksener repeatedly said that she would challenge Erdogan at the presidential elections, but to do so she also technically needs the support of the CHP, said experts.
The CHP hasn't yet nominated a figure politically strong enough to challenge AKP. And its chairman, the 68-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who never won an election, is largely not considered as a likely contender.