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MHP chauvinism: make your wife vote for us

Turkey’s nationalist party figures out how to increase support among women

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News from the bastion of Turkey’s right wing: the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is on the prowl for the female vote. It appears, according to this story from Habertürk (via NTV), that it has finally dawned upon the party leadership that their support base is overwhelmingly male. At the last election, the MHP appears to have learned, the six million votes it received were not equally split between women and men. In fact, fewer than two million women voted them.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone other than the MHP. The party leadership has spent years ignoring opinion polls telling them that their support base is overwhelmingly patrilineal. This gender inequality is reflected in the party leadership: Devlet Bahçeli’s top team is almost all male. Indeed, many have speculated he himself is an Edward Heath-esque bachelor. The division can also be seen in parliament, where just two of the party’s 70 MPs are women.

The MHP’s explanation for this electoral deficit comes from its deputy leader, Osman Çakır: our voters’ wives aren’t voting for us.

“Either these four million men are bachelors, or their wives aren’t voting for us,” Haberturk quotes him as saying. “A large majority of these men cannot be bachelors, which means votes have not come to the MHP from the women in these households.”

Astonishingly, he goes on: “That is why we joke among ourselves by saying ‘these men don’t treat their wives well, so they react by voting for another party. If they treated them better, this wouldn’t be the case’.”

Turkish women are woefully under-represented in parliament. The MHP’s two token MPs are at the bottom of the pile. The ruling AK Party and opposition CHP have slightly better ratios – nine and eight percent of their parliamentary parties respectively are women – although there are only two women in the cabinet. Both AK and the CHP have pledged to increase female representation at the next election, but it seems unlikely they’ll reach the standard set by the pro-Kurdish BDP: one-third of its MPs are women.

Meanwhile, the message to MHP men is clear: treat your women better, because your political party is at stake.

The party leadership is planning to launch its campaign on 28 January under the slogan “Raise your voice, Turkey”, when a number of electoral pledges aimed at women – state support for childcare and maternity leave – will be announced.

Last week in my prediction piece for the upcoming election, I said Turkey needed a third party in parliament, and that the MHP should cross the electoral threshold. But with the likes of Mr Çakır in the party, it isn’t always that easy to support that.

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