Ahead of May elections, Turkish opposition seek new plan

Ahead of May elections, Turkish opposition seek new plan
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Republican People's Party, poses with mayors from his party during a meeting in Ankara. There are still several uncertainties about the approaching elections. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 March 2023

Ahead of May elections, Turkish opposition seek new plan

Ahead of May elections, Turkish opposition seek new plan
  • Good Party exit from opposition bloc boosts President Erdogan’s position at crucial time

ANKARA: After Turkiye’s center-right nationalist Good Party abruptly broke ranks with its five opposition party allies on Friday, the leaders of the opposition alliance met on Saturday, with just weeks to go before the national elections on May 14.

The split happened because the Good Party — the second biggest party in the National Alliance opposition bloc — does not support the presidential candidate favored by the other five opposition parties, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The Good Party was founded by a group of politicians from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, now Erdogan’s main ally, in 2017. 

Instead of Kilicdaroglu, Good Party leader Meral Aksener has proposed the CHP-affiliated mayors of Istanbul and Ankara — Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas respectively. And she called on them to rebel not only against Kilicdaroglu but against their own party, and proceed with their own candidatures. 

Both mayors, however, have said they have back Kilicdaroglu and have no desire to be president.

“Unity and togetherness beat everything but death,” Kilicdaroglu tweeted on Friday. On Saturday, he met with both Yavas and Imamoglu. 

The Good Party’s exit from the bloc is a serious blow to the opposition’s long-running efforts to present a unified front against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

However, there is still widespread public displeasure with Turkiye’s deepening economic crisis and with the government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquakes in which more than 45,000 people died, according to official statistics, and many are still missing.

Kilicdaroglu, the frontrunner among the potential candidates, continues to try and expand his support. On Friday, he met with two left-wing parties. 

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo Intelligence, told Arab News: “It remains to be seen whether the CHP and its allies can now successfully appeal to Kurdish voters. On paper, the likely departure of the Good Party should make this attempt easier for whatever is left of the Nation Alliance.

“Just as it has for the past 20 years, the opposition is turning out to be Erdogan’s greatest asset. With the main opposition bloc in disarray, Erdogan now looks much better positioned to triumph in the May elections." 

The pro-government media and government officials have already launched attacks on the opposition bloc, saying that the latest disagreement shows it lacks the unity to govern the country. 

Seren Selvin Korkmaz, political scientist and executive director of Istanbul-based think-tank Istanpol Institute, said, “One of the main threats to Erdogan is a unified opposition, and he has always invested in the idea that they cannot govern and stand together,” adding that Erdogan has “narrative superiority” after Aksener’s decision. 

Analysts also stressed that the government now has a golden opportunity to shift the focus of the general public and gain some space to maneuver.

“The outcome of the deadly earthquakes gave Erdogan a hard time, but when we should be talking about the consequences of the earthquakes and the government’s responsibilities, both the government and the opposition are focused on the upcoming elections and the formation of alliances,” Korkmaz said.

“This makes it difficult for the opposition to win, because they will have to create a new scenario for the elections. The opposition has to rethink the formulation of its joint bloc, broaden its alliances and create a new psychological aura to give the impression of being capable of winning the elections,” she added.

Korkmaz anticipates that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will not nominate a separate presidential candidate if the opposition bloc endorses a candidate who suits them. 

The Good Party has strongly opposed any strategic alliance with the HDP. Aksener said in September that her party would not sit at a table if the HDP were present. 

The HDP’s position is considered critical for the elections because neither camp currently has the ability to secure 50 percent of the votes. The party’s central executive committee also convened on Saturday to discuss the latest developments. Following the meeting, HDP co-chair, Mithat Sancar, said: “The HDP is aware of its responsibility ... Nobody should despair.” 

But Piccoli thinks that any alliance with the HDP could expose Kilicdaroglu and his allies to further criticism from Erdogan about the HDP’s alleged connections to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and believes that the opposition bloc need to consider any move toward the HDP very carefully.

Although there are still several uncertainties about the approaching elections, one thing is clear: They will be the most hotly contested of Erdogan’s 20-year-rule.