Nationalism, Right-Wing Politics and Leadership: Tracing the Transformation of IYI Party

Perhaps the most interesting of Turkey’s “new” political parties is the IYI Party, which was founded in 2017. IYI Party emerged in the political atmosphere of the 2016 congress of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)- and was later shaped by the 2017 referendum in Turkey over the transition to an executive presidency. Today’s IYI Party commands an intriguing position with its increasing popularity in polls and the claim of distancing from the ideology of “Idealism” (Ülkücülük) a colloquial term denoting the Turkish Nationalist tradition. To better contemplate this political actor, which we believe is significant in Turkey, and to position IYI in the current political climate, we hosted the party’s Bursa Deputy and Parliamentary Group Chairman Prof. İsmail Tatlıoğlu.

For us, Prof. Tatlıoğlu’s most noteworthy statement was “Meral Akşener is the political leader of the MHP, and Devlet Bahçeli is the legal leader”, which he made with reference to the 2016 MHP congress. Indeed, this statement comes across as a blatant indicator that the intricate relationship between the IYI Party and the MHP continues and that IYI, which is currently constituted by different political currents, is still loyal to its “Turkish Nationalist” origins. As we are seeking to position IYI in today’s politics we believe that using this measure is key to our evaluation.

We foresee that an IYI Party, which is fed only with a grand strategy of being an alternative MHP, will be grounded in the political arena. On the other hand, we consider the acute possibility of an IYI Party, nestled in a much wider political framework, as a powerful political actor.

The opposition of IYI to the executive presidential system prepared under by the AK Party and MHP is an important element of the party’s current policy-making strategy. As Prof. Tatlıoğlu stated, the referendum process played a key role in the political socialization of the cadres that would form the IYI Party and was also as a serious source of motivation. Although the current meta-level discourses on policy change have accelerated the IYI Party in terms of discourse, we underline the need to ground these discourses in the form of more concrete policy alternatives.

Although the IYI Party has strengthened its claim to be a center party, particularly after the fine tuning made by Meral Akşener in the party cadres in the past months, the ethos of the party remains unclear. IYI, which still draws its worldview from notions connected to Turkish nationalist thought is limited by these ideological parameters. For instance, we believe that it would be valuable for the IYI Party, which has positioned itself in a maximalist manner on the refugee issue, to produce alternative discourses that are more in tune with the projected realities of society and in a manner that befits a party that aspires to govern in Turkey.

Disregarding dated maxims of ethnic puritanism, IYI must normalize their views and make efforts to produce more feasible policies regarding the future of foreign nationals in Turkey. Nativist policies do not reflect the zeitgeist of the modern world, and they also harm the IYI Party in the long run. If IYI can prove that they are more flexible than the MHP, particularly in matters of societal affairs, this will put the party on a more successful course.

Although IYI was born as a reaction to the current leadership of the MHP, we underline that its current mission should be greater than a simple challenge to Devlet Bahçeli. IYI Party cadres should openly declare that they are a novel political entity in their own right, unassociated with the MHP, and that they are not in favor of a possible merger or integration with the MHP in the future. Although Meral Akşener has taken genuine steps in this regard, it will be decisive if clearer messages come from the IYI Party administration, noting the ongoing queries on the positioning of IYI from an ideological standpoint.

These clear messages can be given on key issues such as the Kurdish Question and the issue of migrants in Turkey. We should also underline an IYI Party, which fails to produce a compelling argument that they are not simply mimicking the MHP, will be condemned to remain in the shadow of the MHP, which is the legitimate and time-tested institution of the Turkish nationalist tradition. It is an absolute necessity for the IYI Party to defend its rise in the polls and to prove its originality to cement its future in Turkish politics.

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