Lack of vision in Turkey’s opposition
The congress of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) over the weekend was not able to ignite new hope in the hearts and minds of those who want an end to 16 years of domination by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). Despite some commentaries in the Turkish media, this situation would hardly be different if Muharrem İnce had been elected party chair over the incumbent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
The speeches that both İnce and Kılıçdaroğlu delivered at the congress gave no idea of how they plan to beat the AK Parti in 2019, a year of three crucial elections: The locals in March and the presidential and parliamentary elections in November. The problem is not only about planning; there was a dangerous lack of focus among both candidates. The CHP is apparently still looking for ways to maintain its “25 percent” and perform the best possible opposition to the AK Parti, rather than trying to find ways to beat it.
In stark contrast, President Tayyip Erdoğan currently has a strong focus and a strong perspective to get re-elected in 2019. He knows that he has to win at least 50 percent plus 1 vote to achieve this and he is not sure that he can achieve this with only the AK Parti’s vote potential. He is therefore trying to make use of every opportunity – from the economy to domestic politics to foreign policy – to pursue that target.
In domestic politics, Erdoğan is trying to form new alliances - as in the case with the AK Parti’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - by creating new common policy grounds from which each party can benefit. In the economy, the AK Parti government has largely shifted to populist policies, which involves revising the 2001-2006 economic reform process. In foreign policy, the general rise in nationalism in society amid Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Syria has helped prepare the psychological atmosphere for the “National Front” that Erdoğan has outlined and desires.
In fact, the CHP has also delineated a clear target: Returning to a parliamentary system in which the president does not have a strong executive role, if any. But in order to achieve this target a parliamentary majority should be held by the CHP and other like-minded parties, while also the president should be either from the CHP or someone who is in favor of the parliamentary system. Until today, nobody has heard any method or perspective from the CHP about how to achieve this target, including in the congress speeches of both Kılıçdaroğlu and İnce.
So far only Good (İYİ) Party head Meral Akşener has declared her candidacy to challenge Erdoğan for the presidency. Nobody has heard anything about the CHP’s policy on the issue.
Of course, it is far from easy to be in the shoes of the CHP leader in today’s Turkey. Doing politics as the main opposition party in the current environment is certainly not easy. There is no guarantee that even if the CHP adopts a strong perspective then the public will change their mind regarding Erdoğan, who has proven in the past that he can deeply touch at least half of the voters. But at present Kılıçdaroğlu simply keeps doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results, which Albert Einstein once said is the definition of insanity. If this continues then the obvious will happen and Erdoğan will win again.