Türkiye’s opposition block which will challenge the long-standing Erdogan government in the upcoming presidential election, on May 14, 2023, which is seen as Türkiye’s democracy test, has been designated following an internal negotiation and discussion process. Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, chairman of the main opposition CHP (center-left), will run against Erdogan; as per the decision of all six opposition parties after months of negotiations. He made his candidacy announcement on March 6: During his first press conference following the announcement, Kiliçdaroglu stated, “We shall all work together to establish the strength of morals and justice. As the Nation Alliance, we will lead Türkiye on the basis of collaboration and compromise,” he added.
Justice and the law will win out, he declared. Kiliçdaroglu has various trump cards to enhance his hand in this election, despite the fact that he has not yet fared well, actually having so far never succeeded in beating Erdogan in any election since 2010.
The Table of Six, as the opposition block is referred to, was almost about to shatter shortly before Kilicdaroglu’s announcement. The popular CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, namely, respectively Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, were urged to run in place of Kilicdaroglu, but they ended up by withdrawing after protracted discussions from the leader of the Good Party (nationalist), the second-largest party in the coalition block. On Monday, March 6, in Ankara, Meral Aksener, leader of Good Party, met with the two mayors before meeting Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. It was revealed that Meral Akşener, hesitant and unmotivated to see Kilicdaroglu raising as the presidential candidate of the opposition block, only agreed to sit down again at negotiating table under the terms that vice presidential positions would be occupied by the mayor Ankara and that of Istanbul. The request seems to have been accepted, with the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul serving as vice presidents in case Kilicdaroglu is elected president; as per the 13th item of the declaration released by the Nation alliance after the public unveiling of their candidate. This has strengthened Kılıçdaroglu’s candidacy, with the choice of the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara as vice-president candidates likely to ensure that voters who are still undecided would lean to support him.
In addition, the nomination of Kemal Kılıçdaroglu as main opposition candidate may help him gain the support of HDP voters, another political party –currently not being part of any alliance block-which is mostly centered around the Kurdish minority. Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of HDP, which had obtained 12 per cent of the vote in 2018, is currently under arrest, another example of the lawlessness of the Erdogan regime according to critics. Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, a 74-year-old former senior official from the Alevi minority, has also won the sympathy of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds in Türkiye. The main issue ahead for him is likely to garner the votes of Sunni Islamist voters, who make up a considerable portion of the voters mass. In order to mollify that spectrum, the contribution of the nationalist and conservative parties in the 6-party national alliance is important. Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s former prime minister, and Ali Babacan, former minister of foreign affairs and economy, have founded new parties (Future Party and DEVA Party). After the ideas of these two former AKP politicians had clashed with Erdogan, they had to leave the party and found their own ones. Some AKP voters are expected to switch their votes to these two parties in the upcoming elections.
Finally, the earthquake, which affected 11 provinces in Türkiye and led to the death of approximately 50 thousand people and to the displacement of 3 million people, is also an important trump card for the opposition. Actually, Erdogan and his party, harshly criticized for their late response to the earthquake, have opened even deeper wounds for Türkiye, which was already going through a deep economic crisis. One month after the earthquake, which is still causing extensive material and moral damage to the nation, it is important for many angry people to respond to the failure of Erdogan and his team through the ballot box.
According to the latest polls, the 14 May presidential election is shaping up to be his most perilous one since 2003 for Erdogan, the year he had come to power as prime minister. The head of state and his party, the AKP (Islamo-conservative), have already seen the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara slip away from them in 2019 to the benefit of the CHP, a stinging setback. Besides, the pro-Kurdish left-wing party HDP, which looks favorably on the nomination of Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, may not invest a candidate this year in order to favor the opposition alliance, according to Turkish media. The opposition now has less than ten weeks to push its agenda and campaign across the country against Erdogan.
Erdogan’s last trump cards
In the agenda of Erdogan for the upcoming months, where the kick-off for election activities was already set to be 10 March, the earthquake is to be at the forefront for now. Judging by the reports in the pro-government media, for the time being, the supporters of the Erdogan are aware and anxious that the candidate of the People’s Alliance, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, and the great support of other parties may cause the government to lose. The Erdogan regime, which does not tolerate any dissenting voice, has been disturbed by the slogans of “Government Resignation” in football matches played in recent weeks, and has went as far as deciding to shut stadiums to spectators.
Financial crisis, declining popularity, political isolation, suspicions of corruption, mismanagement of the earthquake are all factors deteriorating Erdogan’s power. His record is far from being impressive in the eyes of voters, as the presidential and legislative elections are approaching. Erdogan, whose human rights violations, lawlessness and corruption over the last two decades have been incalculable according to his critics, is aware that he could be prosecuted if he loses the election. Now he is set to play all the cards in his hand by pressing all the buttons at the same time. For Erdogan, whose agenda includes a general amnesty and public personnel appointments, the first priority is to make people forget the chaos after the earthquake disaster and the failure of the rescue operations. After 22 years in power, Erdogan now knows the Turkish electorate, the Turkish citizens, and the overall mindset of people. He will likely resort to offensive policies following the announcement of the opposition candidate. But the balance in the country has considerably changed a lot in recent years. Especially the economic crisis is seen as the biggest challenge for Erdogan. Weeks before the elections, the country is going through a very important period for its future and will obviously take the direction of either reviving an old style sultanate, or shall revert back on track of democracy.
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