Murat Yetkin:  Power play in Ankara: Bahçeli’s influence on Erdoğan

Whether out of genuine necessity or strategic maneuvering, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli’s recent remarks, stating that “he smells coup plot” by linking the ongoing Ayhan Bora Kaplan gang investigation by the Ministry of Interior on May 14th with the Sinan Ateş murder probe, have sparked widespread speculation among pro-government commentators, who are now uniformly suggesting the emergence of a fresh “coup plot” conspiracy.


The narrative that Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would return to its founding settings of 2002 seemed to be imperiled by this.

This narrative was also echoed by President Tayyip Erdoğan in his address to the AKP Parliamentary Group on May 15th. Those who had hope that the AKP would return to “more libertarian and democratic factory settings” after the March 31st elections found their expectations misplaced. The AKP is not returning to factory settings, it appears that Erdoğan recalibrating his stance in line with Bahçeli’s settings.


Erdoğan’s recent reiteration of the need to resist “bureaucratic tutelage” after years is noteworthy. This time, the blame was shifted to Islamic organizations within the state, particularly the Nurcu faction’s “Okuyucular” (Readers) wing. As if the four police officers detained within the scope of Kaplan probe which initially ignited the discussion of “plot”, were fairies and genies who rose to the highest ranks of the Police after the purge of Gülenists following the 2016 coup attempt.


Bahçeli’s settings, Kavala move

For weeks, there had been talk of the retrial of the Kavala case, and the possibility of the Gezi Park events being revisited through the request for a retrial by Osman Kavala’s lawyers. The issue was first brought up by journalist Abdülkadir Selvi, who provided insights from within the AKP, in Hürriyet.


The issue was also raised by CHP leader Özgür Özel during his meeting with President Erdoğan on May 2. Figures from within the AKP such as Tuğrul Türkeş and Mehmet Metiner supported the “retrial” for Kavala, but Erdoğan’s advisors Mehmet Uçum and MHP’s Hüseyin Özkan opposed it.


Subsequently, with the change in the composition of the panel of judges overseeing Kavala’s case, optimistic speculations in the media were dampened. Unfortunately, on the day Erdoğan alligned with Bahçeli’s settings, the panel of judges unanimously rejected the request for retrial without considering the decisions of the Constitutional Court or the ECHR. Just the day before, Bahçeli had vilified the Gezi protesters as “Soros’s children.”


Kobani, Sinan Ateş, Kaplan Gang

On the same day as Bahçeli, CHP leader Özgür Özel also mentioned about the Kobani trial to be held on May 16 stating that the main opposition would closely monitor the trial with a delegation, expressing hope for a positive outcome, mentioning Selahattin Demirtaş as well.


However, amidst escalating tensions after recent developments, predicting a favorable outcome for the defendants becomes increasingly challenging, hinting at Bahçeli’s influence in the proceedings.


Editor’s Note:  Indeed, Kobane trials ended in harsh prison sentences for leading defendants, see article below

Kurdish leader Demirtas gets 42 year prison sentence, dimming hopes of “normalization” in Turkish politics

Referring to the recent developments over the past few days, it could be said that the turning point is the fact that the investigation into the murder of Sinan Ateş has reached the indictment stage, and similarly, the Kaplan Gang investigation is linked to the change of testimony of a gang member who was made a confessor.





Is Yerlikaya being targeted?

Yerlikaya has been at the forefront in the fight against gangs and mafias since he was appointed Interior Minister by Erdoğan in June 2023. Progress was made in three files in particular. One of them is the crackdown on international mafias and their collaborators who have settled in Turkey; this is not directly related to our topic, some of these operations had already started during Süleyman Soylu’s term. The ones that are relevant to our topic are the Sinan Ateş murder and the Kaplan Gang investigations.


According to CHP leader Özel, these two cases are raising tensions in Turkey. On the evening when Bahçeli claimed that these two cases were a “plot” to sow discord within the People’s Alliance, news emerged that the President had summoned Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç and MIT Director İbrahim Kalın to Presidential Complex. The manipulation element in this news was the phrase “Yerlikaya was not summoned.”



Return to Bahçeli’s settings


It’s clear that Bahçeli prefers the suspected political connections behind the Sinan Ateş and Kaplan Gang investigations are not delved much into. It’s not the first time that the leader of the MHP, who said “Don’t interfere with the judiciary” when the retrial of Kavala was requested, has issued instructions to the courts on issues within his area of interest.


So, do you think Bahçeli is pleased with Erdoğan’s dialogue with CHP leader Özel, his frequent references to normalization, and his beginning to frame the issue of constitutional change within that context? I doubt it. Because the conditions for the CHP to start talking about the Constitution – for example, as in the Kavala/Gezi trial – are diminishing. But beyond that, it’s clear that the CHP will start talking about changing the Presidential Government System through a system where parliament and the judiciary are strengthened.


This is Bahçeli’s nightmare. Because with such a change, the MHP’s ability to enjoy all the benefits of power without sharing the responsibility of the government would end.


Therefore, Bahçeli wants to pull Erdoğan back to his settings with conspiracy theories. As of yesterday, the emerging picture shows that progress has begun to be made in this direction.

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.