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This article was translated from Arabic.
The Turkish elections, which will take place concurrently with the presidential and legislative elections planned for June 2023, are yet to proceed. However, there is already an upsurge in the antagonism between the opposition parties and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The tension intensified as the Turkish opposition observed that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s standing was dropping, with some polls indicating that it is at its lowest point since 2015.
In order to coordinate the nominations of their numerous parties for parliamentary seats as well as to attempt to win the parliamentary majority as an opposition front, opposition parties are working to become more structured.
Their objective is to unite in the battle for the presidency and to prevent the incumbent Erdogan from being re-elected.
Table for Six
Since October, the Turkish opposition has organized a series of talks with the six opposition groups known as the “Table for Six”. This was an attempt to achieve the coordination needed in the run-up to the elections.
These meetings aimed to forge an agreement on a single presidential candidate and a comprehensive set of parliamentary policies to be adopted by the opposition parties that would serve as the foundation for their cooperation during the election.
It was immediately apparent that the six parties were united in their desire to reinstate the parliamentary form of government and maximize the scope of its powers.
In practice, this means undoing the constitutional changes Erdogan enacted in 2017 that increased his power and shifted the republic to a presidential system.
The six parties launched a social media campaign with the slogan “We will win”. This is in conjunction with their most recent sessions to provide the Table for Six a public booster and demonstrate unity among the six parties.
The structure of the Table for Six and the forces of the opposition
The Table for Six was created to reflect the diversity of the opposition parties and various ideological groups. So far, this table consists of the following groups:
The Republican People’s Party (CHP): A secular social-democratic political party, the CHP represents the oldest party in Turkish politics. Embracing Kemalist ideas attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the party is the main opposition force within Parliament today.
Some people refer to it as “the founder of secular Turkiye” because it was established in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk serving as its leader. The CHP was able to win in important Turkish cities like Istanbul and garner 30% of the vote in the most recent municipal elections. Kemal Klçdarolu is the party’s current leader.
The Good Party: Like the CHP, this party adopts Turkish nationalistic secular ideas. But it also holds liberal and centrist economic leanings in addition to some right-wing ideologies. It was founded by veteran Turkish political leader Meral Aksener after her split from the MHP. The party bases its support on luring Turkish right-wingers and keeping them at bay from Erdogan.
The Happiness Party: Embracing a conservative Islamic leaning based on the traditional vision of the late Turkish politician Necmettin Erbakan, the Happiness Party calls for expanding freedoms without compromising the values of the secular Turkish Republic and supports joining the EU. Led by Temel Karamollaoğlu, the party aims to win over diaspora Turks, merchants, businessmen, the urban bourgeoisie and conservative groups. But it has enjoyed modest results compared to the AKP, which targets the same groups.
Democratic and Progress Party: Also known as “DEVA” (Remedy in Turkish), the party was founded by Turkish politician Ali Babacan in 2020 after his split from the AKP. The party is economically liberal and socially conservative, enabling it to attract a limited segment of AKP supporters.
The Future Party: This party was founded by Ahmet Davutoglu in late 2019 following his defection from the AKP. The Future Party no longer places itself in any particular ideological camp on the Turkish political spectrum; instead, it has adopted a set of guiding principles that emphasize enhancing liberties, doing away with Erdogan’s presidential system, and addressing Alawite concerns.
The Democratic Party: Led by Gultekin Oysal, the party adopts a right-wing nationalist conservative ideology. It holds hardline positions against the AKP and Erdogan and is trying to draw right-wing groups away from his party.
Challenges facing the opposition
There are clearly significant differences in political orientations within the coalition that the opposition is attempting to build: There are hard-right parties that trying to distance right-wing voters from the MHP allied with Erdogan, there are parties that bank on attracting conservative Islamist voters who usually vote for the AKP led by Erdogan, there are secular Kemalists represented by the Republican People’s Party with its democratic socialist ideology, and there is the Good Party with its liberal leanings.
This diversity could be a strong point in favor of the Turkish opposition, allowing it to attract diverse voters from different backgrounds. However, simultaneously it presents a real threat to the opposition, that could deprive it of the parliamentary majority or the presidency.
Represented by the AKP and the MHP, the ruling coalition has in recent years carried a well-defined governance project based on the points of understanding between the two parties, and according to the clear priorities the Turkish president has repeatedly discussed.
On the other hand, the Party of Six today faces difficulties in convincing voters of its ability to form a comprehensive governance project that provides economic and social solutions in light of the great ideological differences that oversee the relationships of its members with one another.
To date, the policies discussed at the Table of Six have been limited to plans to restore Parliament’s powers – their shared objective. However, due to these parties’ ideological differences, they have neither been able to devise clear solutions to the economic and monetary crises, nor have they presented concrete ideas on foreign policy, tax plans, priorities for developing productive sectors, and other pressing issues.
These shortcomings of the opposition coalition suffers reflect a major unresolved crisis.
The second problem that threatens the coalition’s unity is their differing opinions on a presidential candidate. Current CHP Chairman Kemal Klçdarolu, the leader of the largest party at the table, is presenting himself as a possible candidate.
It also seems the Good Party has given him the green light, possibly because of the favorable relationship between the two parties.
Meanwhile, conservative parties that lean closer to Islamic ideals such as the Future Party, the Happiness Party and the Democracy and Progress Party, seek to put forward the name of former Turkish President Abdullah Gul as a unity candidate for the opposition.
It appears these three parties are counting on Gul’s ability to win-over conservative voters, who historically voted for the AKP. They are also anxious about nominating the head of CHP. It has a clear and blatant Kemalist secular background that could impede the opposition’s ability to attract conservatives.
As a result, there are analyses suggesting the possibility the Table for Six could fragment before the electoral campaigns officially start.
Furthermore, most analyses indicate that if members of the coalition were to run in the elections separately, they could lose both the presidential and parliamentary races, which goes against all their interests.
Consequently, for a chance to attain their goals, these parties will have to settle their differences before the start of the election campaigns.
Stakes for the opposition
In the face of all these challenges, the Turkish opposition has a great deal at stake in the next stage. The economic crisis, the continued decline in the Turkish lira’s value, and Erdogan’s problematic policies, especially his interference in monetary policies and refusal to increase interest rates, are all factors that have likely contributed to the weakening of the president’s popularity.
The opposition parties are also counting on the fact that about 6 million young men and women born after the turn of the century will vote in the elections for the first time.
The opposition is currently drawing up plans to appeal to this generation, which was born in the internet and social media era and is more receptive to concerns about equality, women’s rights, and public liberties. According to the Turkish Statistical Authority, the unemployment rate among young people has soared to above 25%. The opposition parties are now attempting to capitalize on this generation’s dissatisfaction with the current economic policies.
Finally, the Table for Six is counting on another opposition alliance, which includes the Kurdish Democratic People’s Party, along with the Workers Party of Turkiye, the Labour Party, the Social Freedom Party, the Labourist Movement Party, and the Federation of Socialist Councils.
If the Table for Six strikes side agreements with this left-wing coalition, which has the ability to win the support of the Kurds, over the presidential elections, the outcome might be drastically altered.
But to do so would mean taking into account the objections of the right-wing parties in the Table for Six, who are still averse to talking to the Democratic People’s Party.
In terms of electoral alliances, significant changes are anticipated in the upcoming months that will unmistakably reorganize the electoral landscape in the first quarter of the coming year.
Erdogan is presently working to galvanize his international efforts, particularly his initiatives and mediations to provide Turkiye a significant global role in light of the food and energy crises as well as the ongoing conflicts. In the face of attempts to topple him, such actions could give Erdogan a boost in the next Turkish elections.