Opposition missing chance for the presidential election
The buildup to the presidential election in August, after which Turkey will have its first ever president directly elected by popular vote, is dominating the country’s agenda, but the opposition still seems to be lagging behind the ruling party in preparations.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is set to make its final decision at a meeting to be held this weekend in Afyon, but it is widely expected to nominate Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the post. This scenario has become increasingly possible with the recent remarks of senior party officials.
On the other hand, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has stepped forward with a proposal to nominate a joint opposition candidate. The nationalist leader told daily Hürriyet on May 5 that Turkey was passing through a very crucial period as polarization gripped the country.
“I openly say this, too: If there is anyone whose candidate is more embracing, we would take it into consideration and lend our support,” Bahçeli said, keeping the doors open to agreeing on a candidate outside the MHP.
The MHP leader said he would talk about the issue with the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as the main opposition party, but also the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) and the Great Union Party (BBP).
The CHP will be a main actor in the election, but it is still not clear when it will announce its candidate.
In his earlier remarks, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the party’s candidate would be someone “loved and respected by the people, who has a clean history, who can easily communicate with world leaders and someone who the center-rightist electorate could vote for.” He has also said on various occasions that he would love to see a woman sitting in the Çankaya Presidential Palace.
So, both the MHP and the CHP are considering nominating a moderate candidate who can appeal to a majority of voters. But whether the two parties can agree on a single name is a difficult question to answer.
When the CHP nominated Mansur Yavaş, a former MHP member, for the Ankara mayoral post in the March 30 local elections, there were reactions from within the party, especially from Alevis and socialists who were the subject of deadly attacks by MHP members in the 1970s. But Yavaş’s calm, results-oriented tone, in addition to the strong reaction against incumbent mayor Melih Gökçek soothed reactions, and he was able to get almost all CHP votes in the capital, as well as a significant portion of MHP votes.
One thing is certain, the opposition will have a hard time finding a high-profile name able to stand tall against Prime Minster Erdoğan, whose party enjoys 45 percent support according to local poll results. As the total votes of two major opposition parties - the CHP at 26 percent and the MHP at 17 - barely amount to the votes of the AKP, their priority will be to prevent the AKP candidate from being elected in the first round, which will need an overall majority of the valid votes.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said it would put forward its own candidate in the presidential election, but nevertheless many Kurdish votes could go to Erdoğan in the first round.
Another advantage for Erdoğan in his fight to get over 50 percent will be the votes to be cast abroad. Around 2.7 million Turkish citizens living abroad will be able to vote in their country of residence for the first time, and the AKP, thanks to Erdoğan’s popularity among Turkish expats, is expected to receive around 60 percent of those votes, according to polls.
Another disadvantage for the opposition might be the timing of the election. The first round is scheduled for Aug. 10, and the second – if needed - for Aug. 24. Most voters from metropolises, who especially the CHP heavily relies on, will be in their summerhouses or on vacation. A low turnout could help the AKP win the presidency in the first round.
The supporters of the CHP and the MHP, despite the efforts of party leaders to convince them otherwise, have little faith in the possibility that Erdoğan – if he runs as expected - can be beaten in the presidential election. The opposition should draw its roadmap quickly and launch a campaign to convince the electorate that their votes will really matter.
Otherwise, Erdoğan may start planning his presidential term as soon as his candidacy is officially announced.