Turkey’s political opposition too slow in organizing itself
Turkey is in ardent preparation for the elections that are scheduled to take place in June next year.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled that he will do everything imaginable to win. His Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, and the far-right MHP of Devlet Bahceli have been acting together under the title “Alliance of the Republic.” However, support for the MHP continues to dwindle and may ultimately be left below the 7 percent electoral threshold. Even if it gets enough votes to stay above this threshold, it is not certain that the AKP and MHP will be able to secure a majority of seats in the next parliament.
A group of six opposition political parties decided seven months ago to form another group, called the “People’s Coalition,” composed mainly of the main opposition CHP led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu and the Good Party led by Meral Aksener. The electoral support of the other four parties hovers between 1 and 3 percent.
Kilicdaroglu comes from an Alawite family, though he has never used religion as part of his political campaigning. This is an asset in the eyes of the secular segment of Turkish society, but there are many Sunni voters who would prefer to vote for a Sunni politician rather than an Alawite. Aksener’s party keeps its distance from the Kurds, but Kurdish voters constitute at least 10 to 12 percent of Turkey’s electorate. So, these two parties, which can be considered as the main opposition actors, have their own constraints. This will definitely reflect on their performance during the election campaign.
The opposition was further fragmented by the establishment last week of another coalition under the leadership of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP. This coalition is called the “Labor and Freedom Alliance.” It includes splinter groups such as the Labor Party, the Workers’ Party of Turkey, the Social Freedom Party, the Federation of Socialist Assemblies, and the Laborist Movement Party. This is the first public announcement that the pro-Kurdish HDP will run a campaign independent from the already-declared political groupings. Such fragmentation will of course further split the political opposition facing Erdogan’s AKP.
The opposition was further fragmented by the establishment last week of another coalition under the leadership of the pro-Kurdish HDP.
Three more individual political figures may play a role that could affect the outcome of the elections. The first is Umit Ozdag of the Victory Party, who is campaigning to immediately return all Syrian refugees in the country, whose number is estimated to be about 4 million. The second is Muharrem Ince of the Homeland Party, who ran against Erdogan in the 2018 presidential election and received more than 30 percent of the votes. The third is Fatih Erbakan of the New Welfare Party. These three politicians may not make a difference if they act individually, but they have the potential to make coalitions and affect the result of the elections.
Other actors may also emerge in the meantime. In politics — especially in the period before an election — a single day is sometimes like an eternity.
The People’s Coalition has been holding regular monthly meetings, hosted each month by a different political party, but few concrete steps have been taken on substantive issues, such as what would be the program of their future government if Erdogan’s party was defeated. How will the transition from the present presidential system to their proposed “reinforced parliamentary system” be achieved? What will be the role of prominent political figures such as Ali Babacan, who successfully managed Turkey’s economy under Erdogan, or former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who played a determinant role in Turkey’s Syria policy?
The distribution of the ministries in the future Cabinet is another important issue. Murat Karayalcin, a former deputy prime minister, suggested that a list of about 2,000 top officials, such as the governor of the Central Bank, the chief of intelligence, the head of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the governors of metropolitan cities, had to be determined beforehand.
Aksener has already declared that she will not participate in the presidential campaign. She will instead run for the future post of prime minister, which does not exist in Turkey’s present system but will be reinstated as part of the reinforced parliamentary system if the People’s Coalition triumphs.
The distribution of the ministries among the political parties may become a major issue if such questions are not dealt with in due time.
A sarcastic comment was made by a journalist when he said that, bearing in mind that the elections will be held in eight or nine months’ time and that nothing concrete has been achieved in the last seven months, all that the Turkish opposition parties have been able to achieve so far has been confined “to consider assessing the initiation of the talks.”
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar