Is the opposition ready for 2015?
As 2014 was the year of presidential and local elections, 2015 will be the year of parliamentary elections: The last chain of three votes that will have overhauled the entire Turkish political system. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election as president by popular vote in August 2014 and his ambition to actively use his presidential powers brought dramatic changes to the Turkish political equation, which was traditionally based on the government-opposition balance.
It is being observed that this traditional political balance is collapsing to the advantage of the president and the prime minister - both of whom represent the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan’s moves to fortify his presidential position by establishing special departments to oversee the government’s performance and control its work will surely show results in the coming weeks and months.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, on the other hand, does not seem to be too disturbed by Erdoğan’s interventions, as he knows that he should instead be focused on the June elections, which mark an important test of whether he will be able to fill the seat as the AKP's leader after Erdoğan. Although the AKP is still leading public opinion surveys, even the slightest decrease in its votes in June will make life more difficult for Davutoğlu. The challenge that Davutoğlu faces is twofold - in his personal political career and in the AKP’s success in elections.
Similar calculations over the 2015 polls are being made on the opposition front as well. In an interview with daily Hürriyet, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu underlined the crucial importance of the upcoming polls by saying “Naturally 2015, as an election year, will be the year of choosing between ‘democracy’ and a ‘dictatorial regime.’”
He stressed that the defeat of the opposition will make things much worse in the country, while also trying to inject hope that his party will do its best in June. However, the CHP and its leader’s current picture portrays an inability even to resolve an ongoing in-house debate about a mayor in Şişli (a district in Istanbul). This case has been carried to court, with the current mayor accusing his forerunner of issuing death threats to him and his family. This will obviously continue to hit newspaper headlines throughout the election campaign. The sad truth for Turkey’s social democrats is that there is nothing new on the CHP’s front.
A similar picture can be drawn for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the country’s most non-progressive political party that has been ruled by the same leader, Devlet Bahçeli, for nearly two decades. The MHP's rhetoric mainly appeals to the nationalist and patriotic sentiments of Turks who are becoming concerned about the idea of Turkey being divided due to the ongoing Kurdish peace process. The party could still gather around 15 percent of the vote, but will continue to be unable to present itself to the Turkish people as a genuine option for government.
On the Kurdish political front, there are meticulous efforts ongoing to make the upcoming election a historic success for the struggle. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is currently trying to run two processes at the same time: On the one hand, it is actively involved in talks with the government for the resolution of the Kurdish problem, along with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On the other hand, it is planning to formally run in the June elections as a political party, meaning that it will have to pass the 10 percent threshold in order to achieve parliamentary representation. Public opinion surveys show that the HDP’s votes are still two percentage points below the threshold, although one of its co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtaş, received 9.76 percent of the vote in the August presidential election.
In the lead up to the June vote, the HDP could form a direct link between these two processes by forcing the government to reduce the election threshold. The line that the HDP takes will become much more visible in the coming months, as it expects concrete steps from the government on the peace process.
Looking at the June elections from the beginning of the New Year suggests that there will not be too much difference in Parliament’s composition - but the total vote shares for each party will deeply shape the period between 2015 and 2019.