Turkish opposition live and kicking

Turkish opposition live and kicking

One of the popular pieces of rhetoric regarding Turkish politics in the West is that there is no effective opposition in the country.

Ignoring the presence of the unfair 10 percent election threshold, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is against decreasing, the next sentence one often hears from apologetic critics of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is usually: “So, there is no alternative, is there?”

In democracies, governments come and go through free and fair elections, not because there are “feasible” alternatives around but because people do or do not confirm their policies. It is not up to outside observers to decide which alternative is feasible for the national voters. For example, the AK Parti was established less than two years before winning the elections, and very few Western observers thought it would form a one-party-government in 2002.

And regarding the performance of the opposition parties in Turkey today, or rather over the last few months?

The social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been in an active mood since the Gezi Park protestations in mid-2013. The spontaneous uprising of the educated, middle-class, urban youngsters worked as a wake-up call for the CHP, not only in domestic but in foreign policy as well. CHP delegations started to show up everywhere, from student street protests to the courtrooms of controversial cases, and to think tanks in Washington DC and Brussels.

The graft probe of Dec. 17, 2013 has leveled-up the opposition performance of the CHP. On Feb. 4, Kılıçdaroğlu read in his party’s group meeting in Parliament the minutes of a number of telephone conversations about allegedly Erdoğan-orchestrated efforts to collect unregistered money (allegedly amounting to $630 million) in order to support a pro-government media company that owns Sabah newspaper and the ATV broadcaster.

This was a totally new method in order to prevent the Erdoğan government’s possible attempt to erase all electronic traces of corruption allegations with new legal changes brought up to Parliament; they are now printed minutes at Parliament.

Hours after that, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, an MP of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), this time in the General Assembly hall, took the stand and revealed (by literally playing the tape and making the MPs listen to it) an alleged telephone conservation between Erdoğan and the manager of the TV station Habertürk. Erdoğan was allegedly calling from Morocco and demanding the removal of a “breaking news” banner from the screen that was quoting Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, urging President Abdullah Gül to intervene in the crisis.

The MHP which followed a rather low key position during Gezi, is now hitting Erdoğan hard on corruption allegations. Erdoğan is presenting the Dec. 17 probe as simply a “coup attempt” by followers of his former ally Fethullah Gülen (a moderate Islamist scholar living in the U.S.) against him. But opposition parties have managed to differentiate the two: There is a fight between Erdoğan and Gülen, which opposition parties do not want to be a part of, and there are also corruption allegations that have to be dealt with by independent courts.

And the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)? They do not talk about the corruption allegations, unless they are directly asked, fearing that it would further erode Erdoğan’s power, which is key for the continuation of the dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So, they act like opposition only when it comes to the Kurdish issue.

But otherwise, the performance of the opposition in Turkey is on the rise as the March 30 local elections approach, invalidating the “no opposition in sight” rhetoric.