Turkish opposition: Rebels without a cause?

After years of talking about it, Turkey’s opposition finally managed to form an alliance at the end of 2021. The name of the alliance, which is made up of six political parties, translates as Table of Six. The goal of the new alliance is to counter the 2-decade long dominance of the ruling AKP party, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The alliance also wants to bring the country back to a parliamentary system rather than the presidential one that has been imposed on it by an increasingly autocratic Erdogan.

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It appears that this is something that many Turkish voters may want, too. In a recent survey by Turkish pollster Yoneylem, 65% of all respondents wanted to see the return to a parliamentary system while only around 30% wanted to stick with the presidential system.

In the same survey, some 63% of those who responded said that the AKP was ruling Turkey badly. A further 58% said that under no circumstances would they vote for Erdogan in the next election.

While the Table of Six have made unprecedented strides in terms of polls in a country where the political culture is based on  one-man shows and opportunistic  alliances based on sharing the state rant, rather than principles, its forward progress came to a standstill in September polls.  A strong economy reducing unemployment, coupled with President Erdogan rolling out large dollops of pork on key constituencies temporarily pushed back the charm offensive by the Table of six. Yet, its biggest weakness remains the nomination of a presidential candidate which will act as the spokesperson and make binding promises on behalf of all. Who can be that person? This article by Deutsche Welle evaluates three top contenders.

Impressive alliance

The six parties who have formed the alliance are: the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the nationalist Good Party, the conservative Islamist Felicity Party, the Future Party, the Democracy and Progress Party and the Democrat Party, which has been around for decades but hasn’t made much impact over the past few years.

The Felicity party was Erdogan’s first political home while the Democracy and Progress Party and the Future Party were both founded by former colleagues of his. The Future Party’s Ahmet Davutoglu was once Turkey’s foreign minister and then its prime minister. Ali Babacan of the Democracy and Progress Party also held several senior ministerial roles. Both were founding members of the AKP with Erdogan until critical of Erdogan’s policies, they broke away from the party.

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Second-largest opposition party out

As impressive as this alliance of opposition parties is, it is also true that the country’s second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was officially excluded.

Involving any Kurdish affiliated political party remains controversial in Turkey. In the past, there have been attempts to outlaw the HDP because of alleged ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The latter has used violence in its fight for Kurdish rights and is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Not charismatic enough

Also,  it is yet unclear which of the senior politicians in the Table of Six alliance will end up leading its campaign efforts, despite monthly summits by alliance leaders, the latest of which took place on October 2, without even opening up a debate on the topic.

Three names are in contention for the job, judging by the Table of Six declaration that the presidential nominee will come from the members.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP, is considered the favorite and he has signaled that he would be willing to take on the role.

Under his leadership, the CHP achieved historic results in 2019 district elections. A CHP candidate was elected in both of Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, where Erdogan’s AKP had previously held sway for decades.

On the other hand, Kilicdaroglu has never managed to win an election himself and his critics doubt whether he can make a big enough impression on voters, especially when competing with such a strong personality as Erdogan.

This is why another of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP colleagues might be a better candidate for the role.

Ekrem Imamoglu is one of the CHP’s urban-vote-winning mayors. He’s been running Istanbul for the past three years and is well liked by many locals regardless of their political affiliation. In his city of over 15 million people, Imamoglu presents himself as a mayor for all of the city’s inhabitants.

His main handicap is a fictitious defamation lawsuit (for insulting the High Election Board), most likely  to be concluded in November 18 trial, which could ban him from elected office.

Ankara’s Mansur Yavas, the CHP’s other winning mayor, is also popular. Since he took office, he has made it his job to tackle corruption and he has also placed much emphasis on environmental protection. His focus on these topics has been appreciated by his constituents.

However Yavas also happens to be a staunch nationalist, which makes him an unpalatable choice for many Kurdish voters, whose ballots play an important role in Turkish elections. That isn’t to say that some Kurds wouldn’t choose him for strategic reasons, and perhaps also because of a lack of a better options. Yavas never exhibited aspiration to national politics, with some claiming his poll success is due to his silence on divisive political issues, such as Kurds and Alevites, as well foreign policy.

There’s another argument that speaks against having one of the two successful CHP mayors head the new opposition alliance. If they did take on the role, they would have to resign from their current mayorships, giving these two cities back to the AKP party. Erdogan’s party still has a majority on the city councils there and would certainly choose the next mayors from within their own ranks.

While the pro-opposition media and probably a large portion of the undecides which make up 15% of the electorate  clamor to see a joint candidate, the Table of six is not expected to make the announcement before the turn of the at the earliest.  While the lack of leader and a single voice to articulate post-election policy could thwart its ascent in the polls,  the consensus among the constituents  seems to be “better late than sorry”,  that is waiting until the lats second to announce the nomination to make sure the candidate  is “electable” against wily Erdogan.

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.