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Will Aksener’s Good (IYI) Party Transform the Turkish Right?

Meral Aksener’s Good (IYI) Party is the AKP’s greatest competition for the heart of the Turkish right. The Good Party’s recent activism has drawn the ire of both friend and foe.
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Meral Aksener’s Good (IYI) Party is the AKP’s greatest competition for the heart of the Turkish right. According to the reputable polling firm Konda, support for the Good Party reached a record high of 19.3 percent in September 2021. In the same poll other right-wing alternatives to the Good Party including the Future Party, the Democracy and Progress Party (Deva), and the Felicity Party barely passed 2.5 percent combined. Hoping to further boost its popularity, the Good Party has also taken steps to expand its electoral base beyond nationalists. Former AKP election strategist Faruk Acar has now joined the ranks of the Good Party, and he has aimed to reach out to a wide range of voters through a political ad that references two former prominent center-right figures in Turkish political history, Suleyman Demirel and Turgut Ozal. The ad also included the leader of the National Outlook Movement, Necmettin Erbakan, a move that shows the Good Party’s efforts to appeal to the core AKP electorate.

The Good Party’s recent activism has drawn the ire of both friend and foe. The CHP, for example, has criticized Aksener for her comments on the opposition’s (still undetermined) 2023 presidential candidate and it has blamed the Good Party of serving its own self-interest instead of sharing the burden within the National Alliance (Millet Ittifaki). The party is currently struggling with an instance in which a party deputy used profane language against a protester in Bingol who claimed to be relative of a person killed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Even if the incident was a provocation (which is very likely), party leadership botched its handling of the controversy. Lastly, the head of the polling firm Eurasia Research, Kemal Ozkiraz, claimed that the above-mentioned ad appealed to Islamists and thus harmed the base’s trust in the party and negatively affected its polling rates. This claim needs further evidence, especially when considering that polls themselves impact perceptions of a party. What, then, are the factors that boosted the popularity of the Good Party in the first place? What is its future direction?

Rise of the Good Party

There are several reasons for the Good Party’s rise. First and foremost, it is different from the other newly founded parties on the right of the political spectrum. The Good Party does not have any former association with the ruling AKP. Thus, it is exempt from criticism about the sins of AKP tenure. In addition, despite their differences, Good Party leadership Meral Aksener, Koray Aydin, and Umit Ozdag, stood with each other in strong solidarity as they splintered from the MHP. Ozdag formed his party only after Good Party consolidated its voting base.

In contrast, both the Future and Deva parties are splinters from the AKP, and their chairmen held high-level positions under Erdogan’s leadership. Their criticisms of the ruling party often intermingle with confessions. Besides, they were too late to position themselves as alternatives to Erdogan; and in the absence of Abdullah Gul’s leadership, they were also fragmented.

The Good Party’s positioning also provides it advantages vis-à-vis the ruling party. In an age of rising nationalism in Turkey, the Good Party has pursued an unequivocal (ultra)nationalist agenda. This has provided it the chance to carve out a political space as the most nationalist party and to criticize the ruling People’s Alliance (Cumhur Ittifaki), which contends with other agendas (i.e. Islamism) and hence deviates from the nationalist line. As a result, the ruling party has not been able to target the Good Party’s base. It remains relatively immune from the ruling party and its nearly omnipotent media witch hunts. Still, it must be admitted that the ruling party is the dominant voice on the right. But even here, the AKP’s strong position has provided the Good Party with a certain form of legitimacy among right-wing voters.

Since the AKP has not been able to stop the Good Party, it has come to pursue a policy that seeks to bring the party into the People’s Alliance. The ruling party has courted Aksener and her party for some time, in effect providing the Good Party with extra room to maneuver.

Filling the Center-Right Void?

As a MHP splinter party, the Good Party has yet to ideologically distinguish itself from its begetter. The party ranks are dominated by former members of the MHP. The party’s logo resembles the symbol of the Kayi Tribe, one of the most powerful Turkish tribes and a stark historical, nationalist reference. As mentioned above, the party also pursues an unequivocal (ultra)nationalist agenda. The Good Party could comfortably remain a nationalist/secular party but with a limited voting base, or it could aim to secure a majority after the AKP.

Early signals indicate an intention for the latter. Its recent ad envisions a wide coalition that embraces the center-right (through glorified depictions of Menderes, Demirel, and Ozal), Islamists (Erbakan), and even the democratic left (Ecevit). To understand its trajectory and ambitions, close attention should be paid to the Good Party’s next moves, whether its use of symbolic names from other factions or changes to its policy tone. If the it does not make such moves, that could mean that its appeal has expanded but its orientation has not. Indeed, harnessing the recent wave of nationalism in the Turkish electorate, the Good Party may aim for a nationalist overtaking of the Turkish right as Erdogan did with his unique style of Islamism.  

Many claim that the Good Party aims to be a center-right party. But to move in this direction it will need to rebuild the Turkish center-right. There is no longer a voter base for Demirel’s True Path Party, under which Aksener was Minister of Interior in the late 1990s. The AKP transformed the right-wing voting base through its use of nativism/jingoism/Islamism. Building a new center-right may be a long-term project that can be contributed to by other right-wing parties, but still, the Turkish right needs to reign itself in and move toward a more democratic and rational bottom line. We will see if the Good Party has such intentions. It would indeed be the worst-case scenario if the Good Party simply copied the AKP’s populist and jingoist tenor in order to coopt the party’s electorate. 

In short, as elections approach, competition for the right has heated up. The Good Party has done well in positioning itself as an attractive party for center-right voters, while Islamist tensions and legacies may prevent the Deva, Future, and Felicity parties from enjoying a share of that same voting base. Yet the opposition should be cautious not to let this competition work as a destabilizing factor in its race against Erdogan. The path that the Good Party will choose is not only critical for the fate of the party but also for Turkey’s political right and the future of its democracy.