Can opposition CHP be Erdoğan’s best game partner?

Can opposition CHP be Erdoğan’s best game partner?

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) organized a rally at Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square on July 24, protesting the failed coup attempt of July 15.

During the “Defending Democracy and the Republic” rally, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu read a 10-point manifesto outlining a roadmap forward for the country from where it stands today.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) deputies and members also joined the rally, where the CHP leader said no party flags (including its own) or placards would be carried other than the Turkish flag and posters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic.

The most important remarks from Kılıçdaroğlu’s Taksim manifesto could be summarized as follows:

1) An unequivocal condemnation of the coup attempt and supporters both “inside and outside.” 

2) The need for reconciliation in politics on the least common denominator of parliamentary democracy, with clear separation of powers, checks and balances.

3) The need to keep strong the basic principles of Turkish democracy as a “secular, social state of law.”

4) Respect for basic rights and freedoms in trying and punishing the coup plotters.

5) The need to restructure and update the state apparatus.

The only obvious point in those remarks in terms of rhetoric not in line with the AK Parti was the stress put on strengthening parliamentary democracy with stronger checks and balances.

The line of President Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Parti so far - at least until the July 15 coup attempt - has been emphasizing a constitutional shift to an executive presidential system, abandoning the current parliamentary one, which it says is a source of problems.

It was Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, rather than Erdoğan, who said after the coup attempt that once Turkey adopted the presidential system, the military would be directly tied to the president.

Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, said it was Turkey’s parliamentary democracy (and independent media), despite all their problems, that saved the country from the coup attempt. All four parties in parliament stood against it while being bombed by jets seized by the coup-plotting junta.

Erdoğan now has to choose between one of two roads.

The first road could be to press further for the executive presidential shift, based on speculations about an increase in Erdoğan’s popularity following the failure of the coup attempt. The current political atmosphere could allow him to win a referendum vote to further concentrate power in the presidency’s hands with weaker democratic control. This would make him achieve his long-term goal, although it could reverse the current mood of moderation in politics - wasting the opportunities for reconciliation that would also be good for the economy and increasing polarization again.

The second road would require a revision of Erdoğan’s long-term target. A reconciliation with the opposition, especially with the social democratic CHP, as the main rival of conservative policies in Turkey, would not be possible if Erdoğan and the AK Parti insist on the executive presidency model, as proposed until now.

It is clear that Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. who is believed by the government to be behind the coup attempt, was neither a good partner for Erdoğan and the AK Parti nor an ally in their years of collaboration.

On the other hand, it has been proven that the opposition parties stood by the AK Parti when democracy and the Turkish Parliament were in danger during the coup attempt.