What is ahead for the opposition?
It took more than a decade for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to find out how to deal with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). It finally realized the asymmetry in terms of leadership and the strength of the party.
AKP gets its strength from its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The voters’ allegiance to its leader is greater than to the party itself.
By contrast, there is a core segment of society which has a strong allegiance to what the CHP as a party represents. Their allegiance to its leader, and especially to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is much weaker. But what seems an advantage for the CHP (let’s say a core 25 percent that will vote for CHP come what may) is also a disadvantage because in the increasingly polarized country, there is another segment of society that would not vote for the CHP.
Successive defeats, as well as the transition to the presidential system that now requires 50 plus one vote to win, has forced the CHP to change its strategy. And that strategy was put into force during the last local elections.
The first tactic was to stop targeting President Erdoğan. Criticizing him further consolidated his supporters. While the elections in Istanbul were between CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, it was known to everyone that the elections would have presented a vote of confidence for the ruling coalition led by Erdoğan and his junior partner, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): So, İmamoğlu avoided targetıng President Erdoğan or even mentionıng him by his name. The few times that he had to refer to the president, he only did it using rhetoric of respect. The second tactic was to avoid having the CHP on the forefront of the election campaign. One reason was CHP’s coalition with the İyi (Good) Party, but the other was to be able to steal votes from the conservative pious segments by keeping the spotlight on the candidates rather than the parties.
This change of strategy, together with the ruling coalition’s poor performance, brought victory to the opposition camp, which won the big cities.
What’s next for the CHP and İyi Party? Most probably, these two parties will continue their alliance for as long as the AKP – MHP alliance is to continue, and it is fair to assume that the latter will also remain as it is. The continuation of this alliance tells us that there won’t be a change in the AKP’s approach towards the Kurdish issue.
The CHP (and that should be the case for the Good Party, as well) is aware that victory in municipal elections would not have come without the Kurdish votes. Having said that, it does not look realistic to expect the CHP to take a different stance on the Kurdish issue. It would try to continue to capitalize on Kurdish voters’ frustration toward the ruling coalition, without doing much.
Similarly, it is hard to expect the CHP to take a differing approach on foreign policy issues, be it on relations with the United States or on the looming crisis in the eastern Mediterranean.
Although a recent poll by Kadir Has University reveals a clear disapproval of the ruling coalition’s foreign policy, recent statements by the CHP leader does not leave room to expect that the main opposition will capitalize on that disenchantment.
That leaves the economic domain as the main area where the CHP will focus. The AKP has long been enjoying the support
of the especially less advantaged segments of society for having concretely improved their daily lives. But that support has been fading with increasing economic hardships.
By contrast, the CHP suffers from an image of being an inefficient party as well as a prejudice that it would rather serve the interest of the elites. Without being in the government, the CHP will have difficulty in reversing that conviction.
Yet the municipalities present an opportunity for the CHP to show that it can find solutions to everyday problems of the citizens and that it can manage to efficiently rule. In that sense, the spotlight will be first on İstanbul, then Ankara to be followed by other big cities with large conservative segments like Adana, Mersin and Antalya.
For a start, it was a wise idea for the municipalities in the hands of the CHP to run the procurement bids in a transparent way. Transparency has become a component of governance that is not only valued by elites but something that conservative segments have also been longing for.
But capitalizing on the mistakes of the past municipal administrations will not be enough. Municipalities in the hands of the opposition will have to prove that they can improve lives and that they will do so in a non-discriminative way.
Turkish society will, therefore, follow more deliberations in the parliaments of the municipalities than the general assembly of the Turkish Parliament. There will be more longing for local news then national news. In a way, it would be fair to say that politics will become even more local.