If the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had hoped to catch Turkey’s fragmented opposition on the hop by pushing the vote forward by eighteen months, it appears to be outwitted by its opponents’ greater ingenuity.
Unexpectedly calling for snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24 instead of late 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aimed- again- to have the upper hand.
Suspecting that IYI (Good) Party -whose leader Meral Akşener earlier declared her intention to challenge Mr. Erdoğan for presidency- might be excluded from the race, the main opposition Republican People’s Party moved 15 of their deputies to IYI Party, enabling it to contest the June 24 election.
With three opposition parties joining forces to avoid “traps placed in front of democracy”, President Erdoğan’s AKP stumbled into a greater trap than the one it built for others.
Having a taste of its own medicine, seems to have angered the ruling party.
President Erdoğan is accusing the CHP of “polluting the parliament”.
Speaking at the AKP’s Parliamentary Group Meeting, President Erdoğan has claimed that the opposition got together in a dirty deal and they had no colour or creed. “They are trying to form an alliance whose only purpose is enmity for Recep Tayyip Erdogan”, he said.
The Hurriyet columnist, self-declared AKP supporter Abdülkadir Selvi cast his net even wider. “Those lobbies that want to bring Erdoğan down, are actively working at it”, he wrote.
I don’t know about the lobbies, but trying to unseat the President is precisely what the opposition should be doing in a democratic election.
They have barely two months to organise, come up with a candidate and run a campaign.
As the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) pointed out in its statement on April 24, “the space for democratic debate” in Turkey is extremely narrow under the state of emergency.
“A significant number of parliamentarians from the opposition (10), journalists (about 150) and human rights defenders remain in detention, while many other face legal cases on terror-related charges. Many NGOs have been closed down. Numerous media have also been closed down or bought up by pro-government businessmen,” PACE said.
Citing disproportional measures and unacceptable restrictions on fundamental freedoms – in particular freedom of expression, the media, and assembly, The Monitoring Committee called on Turkey to “postpone” the June 24 snap elections.
The Turkish government was not likely to heed that advice. Sure enough, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told them to mind their own business.
Government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ called it a “clear intervention in Turkey’s internal affairs”.
As for the opposition parties, they would be better off not losing the momentum they have created.
The real test of their creative dexterity with strategic ingenuity still lies ahead.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Good Party (IYI) and Felicity Party (Saadet) now need to piece together a values-based political alliance, built on democratic principles.
Mr. Erdogan can be successfully challenged if the leaders of the three opposition parties can come up with a formula that will be simultaneously acceptable to Turkey’s secular, conservative, nationalist and Islamist voters that want to see an end to the AKP rule.
This near-impossible task requires contesting the election with well-chosen candidates that would deprive Mr. Erdogan a clear victory at the first round. Tactical voting in the second round on a mutually agreed candidate could be the best way forward.
The electoral alliance of the opposition may also go for the option of challenging Mr. Erdoğan from the start, with a jointly endorsed single candidate.
Winning the broadest possible support requires a name that would appeal to the disgruntled AKP base, especially the young and women voters.
Yet, normalization of politics in Turkey could only be achieved when the country’s Kurdish population get aboard the democracy train.
It would be unrealistic or too optimistic to expect the CHP and the IYI Party, with their left and right nationalistic tendencies, to seek a formal co-operation with the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second largest opposition party.
Veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk told Arti Gerçek’s Fehim Işık that Turkey needed an inclusive “democracy bloc”, but the Kurdish politicians were realistic enough to know that HDP’s inclusion in that would be exploited by the AKP government and used as a stick to beat the opposition.
“We want a shared logic to take us forward. Our demands for a democratic Turkey are clearly set out. As long as we move in the right direction, it does not matter whether we are formally invited to such a bloc” Mr. Türk says.
Former President and co-founder of the AKP, Abdullah Gül may be persuaded to run as the opposition front’s joint candidate.
Mr. Gul may well be a plausible choice for conservative, right-wing nationalist and Islamist voters, but he will not be popular with the majority of secular voters.
During his term as president from 2007 to 2014, Mr. Gül has done nothing to counter Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism.
Keeping a guarded silence for years is not enough to endear him to those impatient for change.
If the consensus candidate to fight against Mr. Erdoğan for the presidency is chosen merely for being ‘best of worst’, Turkey’s opposition really will be drinking in the last-chance saloon.
This post is also available in: Turkish