Is Turkey’s opposition ready for snap elections?
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli is well-known as the “kingmaker” of Turkish politics. It was Bahçeli who called for early elections back in 2002, paving the way for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to come to office.
In the aftermath of June 2015 parliamentary election, in which the AKP failed to garner a sufficient majority to form a government, it was again Bahçeli who rejected calls from other opposition parties to set up a coalition government, calling for early polls instead. That ultimately worked to the advantage of the AKP, which increased its votes by around 9 percentage points in just five months, securing a solid majority at parliament.
Bahçeli’s intervention into politics became much more visible after the July 2016 coup attempt. On Oct. 11, 2016 he openly announced his party’s support for the AKP’s ambitions to change the administrative system from a parliamentary to an executive-presidency model. His 40-seat MHP group endorsed the constitutional amendments at parliament in late 2016 and the AKP-MHP duo was able to narrowly win the referendum on April 16, 2017.
In early 2018, Bahçeli once again took the stage by declaring that the MHP will not present a candidate for the presidential race and instead will back President Erdoğan’s nomination. In return, he called on the AKP to establish an alliance for the parliamentary elections, as part of his bid to get the MHP into parliament, as the party’s votes will likely fall below the 10 percent national election threshold. The AKP and the MHP have now formed what they call the “People’s Alliance.”
And now Bahçeli has suggested holding parliamentary and presidential elections in August 2018 instead of November 2019, saying the grounds for an alliance would be difficult to sustain until next year’s elections under current political and economic conditions.
There seem to be two main factors behind Bahçeli’s call. The first is about economics. He seems to be right that prolonged uncertainties are not helpful for the economy, which could negatively affect the performance of the alliance in next year’s elections. There is already speculation about a looming economic crisis in Turkey, with the devaluation of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies seemingly unstoppable.
The second drive behind the call is likely about catching opposition parties off guard. The AKP-MHP duo seems to be ready for elections, as they have one strong presidential candidate and have succeeded in establishing a joint discourse on Turkey’s various internal and external preoccupations.
The opposition wing is now consisted of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the İYİ (Good) Party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the Felicity Party (SP) and some minor parties like the Democrat Party (DP), the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Motherland Party (Anavatan).
All of these parties are mulling whether to form election alliances against the “People’s Alliance” but they have not yet been able to come to terms. More importantly, none of them have a clear roadmap for the presidential elections and still have no announced candidates.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wants to see how the law that regulates the election of the president will be finalized before making a decision on forming an election alliance. He has had talks with almost all opposition parties apart from the HDP, but his immediate preoccupation has been to guarantee ballot box security on polling day.
There is little time left for the CHP to both start campaigning for double elections in 2018 and also to compromise on a presidential candidate. This situation looks like it will push Kılıçdaroğlu to stand as the party’s candidate.
İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener is also in favor of forming an alliance but she first needs to get her party’s provincial organizations ready for the polls. She has already declared that she will run for the presidency but there are still question marks about how her self-nomination could affect alliance negotiations. There are also speculations that the İYİ Party risks failing to run in elections if they are held in August.
SP leader Temel Karamollaoğlu perhaps has the potential to play the role of kingmaker on the opposition side. There have been speculations about whether he would try to persuade former President Abdullah Gül to run for the presidency, but expectations to this end have always been low.
One of the key ideas in the minds of the various opposition parties is how to prevent Erdoğan from being elected in the first round so they can then unite around the second-best voted presidential candidate. But again no concrete strategy looks likely to emerge any time soon.
As can be seen, there are still many unanswerable questions in front of Turkey’s opposition parties, which is probably the reason why Bahçeli has intervened to call for early polls. However, we are yet to see whether President Erdoğan’s election plans overlap with those of Bahçeli.