First split appears in Turkiye’s opposition front
Turkiye is going to hold local elections on March 31 next year. There was a slim hope that the main opposition Republican People’s Party, known as the CHP, and the smaller Good Party could win in certain municipalities if they were to form a coalition. This hope has now been shattered, as the Good Party decided last week not to form such a coalition.
Two points have come on to the agenda in the run-up to the local elections. One is the coalitions that might be formed before the elections. The second is the potential role of the Kurdish electorate.
At one stage, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Devlet Bahceli, his unofficial coalition partner and the chairman of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, stood distant from each other. This became clear when a militant in Bahceli’s party was convicted and jailed for several crimes. The Turkish media assesses the relations between Erdogan and Bahceli according to whether the former takes any steps that might annoy the latter. The court’s conviction of a member of Bahceli’s party was used as a reason to question whether something was going wrong between these two leaders.
Rumors claimed that Erdogan, because of this and other similar incidents, was looking for a way to get rid of his coalition partner. By distancing himself from Bahceli, Erdogan may have sought to attract the votes of the more moderate segments of the Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party. However, he eventually decided that the Kurdish votes would not be able to compensate for the loss of Bahceli’s support.
Meanwhile, there was hope that the opposition parties would find a way to establish coalitions before the local elections. The first test — of a linkup between the CHP and the Good Party — failed.
Good Party leader Meral Aksener had announced long before the run-up to the local elections that her party was going to run alone. Ozgur Ozel, the new chairman of the CHP, handled the process skillfully. He wanted to formalize the issue by either putting an end to this uncertain situation or by establishing a coalition with the Good Party. He did not promise that a coalition was taking shape. He said that his party did not have a plan B for the forthcoming elections. Instead, he said it had two plan As. One was to form a coalition with the Good Party, if it agreed. The second was that the CHP would determine its candidates and launch its own election campaign. Ozel said that whatever the Good Party decided would be received with due respect by the CHP.
On Dec. 3, a motion was voted on by the governing board of the Good Party. Fifteen members of the board voted in favor of forming a coalition with the CHP and 35 members voted against it. Aksener left the meeting hall when the vote was being taken as she wanted to show her neutrality.
On the side of the ruling Justice and Development Party, the contacts between Erdogan and Bahceli are now moving in a positive direction. The position of the splinter parties varies according to their place on the political scale.
There was hope that the opposition parties would find a way to establish coalitions before the local elections.
The recent change in the leadership of the CHP — with Ozel replacing long-time incumbent Kemal Kilicdaroglu — did not affect the political landscape in Turkiye. The CHP’s share of the vote has remained constant. The splinter parties shared the surplus among themselves.
The vote by the governing board of the Good Party was an indication that there is a tendency among party officials not to make a coalition with the CHP. However, this does not necessarily mean that the individual voters of the Good Party will act in the same way as the members of its governing board.
Erdogan has followed a grand strategy since he came to power in 2002. He has not allowed the right-wing parties to grow beyond a certain threshold and become a rival to the Justice and Development Party. He encouraged them to melt into his own rightist party. The only party that went beyond this limit was the Good Party.
Local elections in Turkiye have a different dynamic from general elections. Local politicians may find it convenient to cooperate with another local leader by making a trade-off. If they do not believe they are strong enough, they may agree to put forward their candidacy for a less important post in the local administration.
The second important factor that has to be taken into consideration in these elections is the role that the Kurdish electorate will play. Kurds constitute 12 to 15 percent of Turkiye’s electorate and they are highly politicized. They are also active in the metropolitan agglomerations. In 2018, they played a crucial role in the election of Ekrem Imamoglu as the metropolitan mayor of Istanbul. Erdogan will probably do everything in his power to regain Istanbul. Regarding the elections, he used to say, “The one who gets Istanbul will get Turkiye.”
Another important factor that has to be kept in mind is the question of the future eligibility of Erdogan. According to the Turkish constitution, a president can only be elected twice. Therefore, Erdogan’s reign will come to an end on May 7, 2028. Thanks to a twisted interpretation of the constitution, he has already been elected three times. To justify this exceptional practice, he used the transition to a new form of governance in Turkiye, which now uses the presidential system. But if the game is played according to the rules, Erdogan will not be able to run again in the presidential election in 2028. This raises the question of who will succeed him. We have four more years to worry about this subject.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. X: @yakis_yasar