March 30 elections and opposition parties
Three opposition parties are running in the March 30 local elections: The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The BDP, outside the eastern and southeastern districts, is endorsing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) composed of small leftist groups, especially in Istanbul. The three opposition parties ideologically stand as far apart from each other as possible. The CHP is a secularist and Kemalist party. The MHP and BDP, on the other hand, are based on Turkish and Kurdish nationalism, respectively. Despite their radically different ideological roots, all three parties have one thing in common. All three parties find most of their support only in particular districts. In other words, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is the only party that remains in the race in all districts in Turkey and is running against different opposition parties in different districts.
The CHP, having set aside the actual campaign it was prepared to run on, appears to be in open allegiance with the Gülen group, which was accused of engineering the Dec. 17, 2013, operation. At the center of the new campaign strategy are the tens of thousands of wiretap recordings, provided by the Gülen group, and the allegations based on those recordings. The CHP, which sent parliamentary questions with the claim that the Gülen Group posed a national threat, now finds itself in collaboration with that same group. This is also puzzling from the perspective of the Gülen group. It is the first time an openly Islamist group has collaborated with a radically secularist party. This situation will come to be known as the pre-March 30 peculiarity of Turkish politics.
The Gülen group can at most contribute to an increase of a percent to the CHP’s votes. However, the alliance between the CHP and the Gülen group has had more of an influence on the AK Party than it had on the CHP – it caused the AK Party to unite against the opposition. The AK Party, since its inception, ran and won against the CHP seven times; two of the times were against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who became the party leader in 2010. If Kılıçdaroğlu loses the March 30 elections, he will have lost all three elections in which he ran against Erdoğan. The political consequences of this loss are unknown.
The previous leader, despite having lost all the elections he ran in, remained as the leader of the CHP for years. If the CHP does not prevail in the March 30 elections, it will remain as a party only relevant in some coastal districts.
Similarly, the possibility of the MHP winning the March 30 elections is very slim. Devlet Bahçeli of the MHP, who has been the party leader for the last 17 years, has lost every election in which he has run against Erdoğan. The MHP, which has only found support in certain cities in Central Anatolia, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, has become a regional party in every sense of the word. Similarly, the party of the Kurdish political movement, despite having been successful in some cities in the local elections in the eastern and southeastern districts, has not yet managed to steal the title of “the leader that has gained the most Kurdish votes” from Erdoğan. The AK Party still has a strong Kurdish constituency.
The opposition parties neither signal a structural and managerial change in their parties nor offer a different vision for the future in the event they lose the March 30 elections. The opposition parties, which are not held accountable and do not face any ill consequences over losing the elections, certainly do not feel any pressure to change or win elections.