Turkey’s opposition has not given up the race
“We are winning with a large margin, no matter what the opposition parties do,” President Tayyip Erdoğan said on May 2 before returning from an official visit to South Korea. On May 4 in Istanbul he also said “the only thing that the opposition parties want is to bring him down,” which is obviously the purpose of any democratic election.
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is currently in a single-party government, but it is in alliance with two parties that officially count as the opposition. Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has been the biggest supporter of Erdoğan since the April 2017 referendum on transferring all executive powers to the presidency. Last week Mustafa Destici’s religious-nationalist Great Unity Party (BBP) also joined that alliance, as it has no real chance of entering parliament by crossing the 10 percent election unless it allies with another party.
Threshold calculations were in fact one of the main reasons why Bahçeli wanted to enter an alliance with Erdoğan, whose main concern is to get re-elected in the June 24 early election by winning at least 50 percent of the votes. That is easier said than done.
The opposition bloc, on the other hand, is fragmented. The right-wing İYİ (Good) Party led by Meral Akşener does not want to be mentioned in the same parenthesis as the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has put forward its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who is now in prison, as a candidate.
Social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu made an unprecedented gesture by lending 15 MPs to close the gap for Akşener and to allow her to put forward her candidacy. Akşener subsequently declined to unite against a single opposition candidate.
Meanwhile, all efforts of conservative Felicity Party (Saadet) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu failed to convince former President Abdullah Gül to run against Erdoğan. Gül on May 4 confirmed reports that Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and President Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın paid him a visit, reportedly landing at his office’s site with a helicopter. He denied reports that they tried to persuade or threaten him to not be a candidate, but did not answer questions about whether the candidacy issue came up during the two-hour-plus chat.
MHP head Bahçeli stated on May 3 that the constitutional requirement for collecting 100,000 signatures for candidates not supported by a parliamentary group could lead to the intervention of supporters of the now-illegal “FETÖ” network of Fethullah Gülen. His remarks were later backed up by AK Party spokesman Mahir Ünal. Bahçeli was implying that Gülenists were throwing their support behind Akşener, who resigned from the MHP to establish the İYİ Party last year. In response to Bahçeli, CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on his party organization to redouble efforts to sign on for candidates in need of more signatures.
An opposition bloc has thus been formed between the CHP, the İYİ Party, the Felicity Party and the small Democrat Party (DP) for the parliamentary election, which will be held on the same day as the presidential election. In the presidential election every party will put forward its own candidate.
Yesterday Kılıçdaroğlu announced the CHP’s candidate as Muharrem İnce, a party dissident who has twice presented his candidacy against Kılıçdaroğlu but lost. İnce is a populist figure and knows how to ignite crowds. But it is an open question whether that popularity will turn into sufficient votes. If Erdoğan cannot get at least 50 percent on June 24, then a second round for the presidency will be held on July 8 between the two top candidates.
The interesting point here is that despite all the odds, despite the heavy influence of President Erdoğan on all politics and democratic institutions, and despite the fact that the opposition is highly fragmented, they still have not given up. Turkish voters are resilient and there is not much time left to see which way it will all end up.