Will the Turkish opposition’s tactics against Erdoğan work?
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s move to lend 15 of his MPs to the right-wing İYİ (Good) Party after President Tayyip Erdoğan called for early elections on June 24 took many by surprise.
First of all, it was unprecedented and innovative, and it caught the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) off guard. Secondly, it aimed at foiling the plans of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who gave full support to Erdoğan for his re-election. The move came because İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener, who had defected from the MHP, was determined to be a presidential candidate, but she would either need at least 100,000 signatures to present her candidacy to the top election board or at least 20 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the minimum number to form a group. Bahçeli hoped that Akşener would not be able to run for president, but Kılıçdaroğlu secured her chances. Thirdly, the move turned all attention to the possibility of a single candidate supported by the opposition against Erdoğan. The potential candidate was former President Abdullah Gül.
Gül denied allegations that it was a visit by Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın that played a role in his decline to run for president. He said he would have taken the offer had the opposition reached a consensus on his name. But there was none, because Akşener insisted she was going to compete in the race. At that point, Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the conservative Felicity Party (SP), after trying hard to convince Gül to run for president gave up and announced his candidacy. Then, the CHP, İYİ Party and the SP, together with the fringe center-right Democrat Party (DP), declared their alliance only for the parliamentary elections against the AK Parti and the MHP, which are in alliance for both the presidential and parliamentary elections. The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) decided to name its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who is currently behind bars, as their presidential candidate.
And after that, Erdoğan, who said the entire opposition bloc was aiming to take him down in the elections — which is true — added the fringe nationalist-religious Great Unity Party (BBP) to his alliance to secure at least 50 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential vote on June 24.
Early commentaries suggested that because the opposition failed to present a joint candidate, they had little hopes to win against Erdoğan. But things changed again when Bahçeli said he had suspicions that the 100,000 people who signed their support for Akşener’s candidacy were supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan. That was instantly countered by Kılıçdaroğlu, who asked CHP party organizations to sign for all candidates who are in need of at least 100,000 signatures. The next day, both Akşener and Karamollaoğlu met the requirements.
Kılıçdaroğlu then announced the CHP candidate as Muharrem İnce, a deputy from the western province of Yalova. İnce had run against Kılıçdaroğlu twice for leadership and lost but that was party politics. CHP supporters believe he can energize crowds for the campaign.
The first thing İnce called for was midnight rallies during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on May 15, when most people who are fasting will be awake. The next thing he did was to promise “brave steps” towards the solution of the Kurdish problem and said he would visit Demirtaş in prison. If Kılıçdaroğlu would have taken those steps, there could have been a reaction from within the CHP, but when İnce did, they sounded natural.
It seems from the beginning, Kılıçdaroğlu’s tactic was to see as many candidates as possible running against Erdoğan, as had been the case in the 2014 presidential elections, where joint candidates could not attract all the grassroots in the polls. One plus one made less than two in 2014. This way, the opposition hopes to attract as many voters as possible in the polls against Erdoğan in order to stop him from being elected in the first round, since voters are assumed to support their own candidates rather than a joint candidate who they do not trust.
If his tactic is successful and if Erdoğan does not win in the first round on June 24, then the new Turkish president will be clear in the second round on July 8 between the candidates who received the highest votes in the first round.