Who will be the Turkish opposition’s presidential candidate?

Who will be the Turkish opposition’s presidential candidate?

Turkey, which will hold the next elections in June 2023, is perhaps experiencing one of the longest-running election campaigns in its political history. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has already announced the start of his party’s election campaign through consecutive meetings with his party officials in the past two weeks.

He lately held closed-door meetings with his lawmakers and the heads of the AKP’s provincial branches and resumed domestic travels. Reiterating that elections will be held on time, June 2023, Erdoğan called on the entire AKP organizations to start working for the elections without delay.

“If we are to decisively get prepared for the 2023 elections, we should know that there are two important stops ahead: 2021 and 2022. 2023 is literally the year of the election,” Erdoğan told his AKP fellows. “We should be able to leave the 2023 juncture behind safe and sound,” he said, highlighting the importance of the upcoming elections.

As those who are familiar with Turkish politics know very well, two years is a very long time. It doesn’t make much sense to predict rival political camps’ strategies today or make smart guesses about their roadmaps. As of today, we have only basic political choices and elements.

On the ruling People’s Alliance’s side - the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - President Erdoğan’s candidacy for presidency is well certain. Their main rhetoric is based on crowning Turkey’s centennial with a brand new purely civilian constitution.

Plus, the recovery of the Turkish economy in the next two years is seen by the People Alliance as a must to win the polls. On foreign policy, the reconciliation process between Turkey and the West is still holding although it’s very fragile. It’s hard to guess how long this détente can survive given the complexity of regional conflicts. In brief, the People’s Alliance is seen in better shape in terms of the level of preparedness for the next elections.

The Nation Alliance, composed of the social democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP), the center-right İYİ (Good) Party, the conservative Felicity Party and the central Democrat Party, and supported by two recently founded central-conservative parties, is still far from putting forward a tidy picture.

Although all these parties complain about the executive-presidential system, they are delaying proposing a single model for an efficient return to what they call the “strengthened parliamentary system.”

The most important goal of the opposition parties is to revisit their success in the 2019 municipal elections. There are two challenges to this end: First, municipal polls always have their own dynamics, while general elections require a better organization and more importantly a strong narrative for the future.

In rhetoric, all the opposition parties stress that democracy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms will be taken care of if they come to power but they are yet to pen this promise in detail. Furthermore, it’s also unclear how all these parties will be represented in a government and to what extent compromise will be reached in running the economy, foreign policy and other social, educational and cultural works if they come to power.

The second issue the Nation Alliance is facing is the presidential candidate. There are four widely mentioned presidential candidates on the oppositional camp: CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, İYİ Party’s Meral Akşener and the Istanbul and Ankara’s mayors, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, respectively.

As was observed over the weekend, this issue is becoming much more sensitive on the oppositional camp. Bülent Kuşoğlu, a deputy leader of the CHP and one of the closest aides to the chairman, has announced Kılıçdaroğlu as the CHP’s candidate. Kılıçdaroğlu had to deny it immediately as he repeated his well-known stance that the presidential nominee will be decided by the opposition coalition.

But this is not going to be an easy decision. The opposition is still thinking over whether they should run with a single candidate in the first round of the presidential elections. Those who oppose this idea suggest that all the parties should run individually in the first round and then unite around the candidate who wins the most votes against President Erdoğan, if, of course, the latter does not win it already in the first round.

Others say that there is still time for the polls and a quick announcement of the oppositional strategies would be disadvantageous and risky for the unity of the Nation Alliance. As seen, the opposition will have to devote more time and energy to get fully prepared for the next elections.