Alwaght- Five months to the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, the nation’s political atmosphere is heavily influenced by the political competitions, and the parties are making their arrangements to join the elections. In one of the most important developments, the opposition parties announced their ‘grand’ alliance on January 5.
In a joint statement released after a 9-hour meeting, the six-party coalition announced the plan for the 2023 elections, according to which six opposition leaders have agreed to nominate a common candidate for the presidential election. This action took place in circumstances where with the postponement of the last joint meeting of these parties, media outlets close to the ruling party had considered the chance of forming this coalition to be very slim.
The six-party coalition is made up of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) led by Kılıçdaroğlu, the Good Party (iYi) led by Meral Akşener, the Islamist Saadat Party (SP), the Democrat Party (DP), the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and The Future Party under the leadership of former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
This is the first time in Turkey that the parties announce a coalition plan for the period after winning the elections. According to the announcement of the leaders of the six parties, the ‘road map’ and ‘common principles’ will be announced on January 30. The coalition leaders are expected to name a candidate at a meeting scheduled for January 26 to finalize the January 30 statement. One of the most controversial programs of the new coalition is to return Turkey to the parliamentary system.
Poll results suggest that the main candidate will most likely be a member of the CHP who is the leader of the coalition. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, as well as Istanbul Mayor Ekrem imamoğlu seem to be the most likely options. The third option, indeed, faces an obstacle as in mid-December 2022, the court sentenced Imamoglu to two years in prison on non-financial charges such as “insulting public figures”, and this may make it impossible for him to participate in the elections.
But the opposition coalition, in a situation in which Turkey’s economic situation is not favorable at all due to rampant inflation and the slump of the lira value against the dollar in recent months, will definitely be a challenge for Erdogan and his party. After the opposition announced its coalition, Erdogan and fellow leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party rushed to attack it.
During his trip to Antalya, Erdogan said that their only promises to Turkey are restoration of order while over decades they inflicted damages on the country by their wicked political disputes and disorderly alliances. “But they cannot do that,” he said. He then attacked CHP leader and called his remarks “irresponsible and shameful.” Earlier, Kılıçdaroğlu had criticized the current situation and said: “No one in Turkey is safe in terms of life and property.” According to Erdogan, this is a message to foreign investors not to come to Turkey.
“They told the foreign investors not to come. What does this mean? They are shameless,” Erdogan said.
In his remarks, Erdogan tried to use the atmosphere caused by November terrorist attack to provoke the nationalists as a usual tactic to portray the new coalition as supported by Kurdish HDP.
“Haven’t these supporters of terrorism who attacked our peace joined them. Hasn’t Kemal [Kılıçdaroğlu] walked hand in hand with these terrorists?,” said Erdogan.
Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ was another figure to criticize the opposition. He attacked Davutoglu for his recent remarks. Davutoglu said: “We will name a united candidate. We name a candidate and tell him that we are a six-member team. We make you the captain, but the rules of game are clear.”
After these statements, Bozdağ questioned the independence of the president coming out of this coalition and said that the six-party coalition is looking for a “chief of staff.”
“They are not looking for a president for Turkey, they are looking for a subservient emir,” he said.
In general, it seems that the AKP leader and Erdogan are feeling threatened by the opposition coalition and are looking for change in their election plans.
An example of these measures is the announcement of a 25 percent increase in the bonus rate for employees and pensioners, which reached 30 percent the next day, a move described by critics as mere “electoral bribery.” Propagandistic news like Black Sea natural gas field discovery and adding new weapon systems Typhoon missiles and drones to the military in Erdogan’s recent speeches has been another part of these measures.
Other measures include change in the statute of the AKP. The statute of the party stipulates that a person can be a member of parliament for a maximum of three terms, and those who have completed this limit must be replaced by new names. Meanwhile, many of the party’s prominent lawmakers including Turkish Grand National Assembly President Mustafa Şentop and others like Binali Yıldırım, Hayati Yazici, Ali ihsan Yavuz, and Judet Yılmaz are all three-termers. Undoubtedly, Erdogan desperately needs the help of these prominent figures at this critical situation. So, he would seek changes to party statute.
Another measure may have to do with the election date.
Challenge of election date
The legal and normal date for holding simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey is set for June 18. The date of holding elections is of high sensitivity for the parties due to the determining factors that can influence the results of the vote.
So far, several meetings have been discussed in the central executive board of the AKP to examine alternative scenarios for June 18, in the time-frame after April 9 and before June 18. However, choices like April 30 and May 7 were also discussed. The leading idea was May 14, though it is yet to be finalized.
Some members of the AKP believe that if the elections are held on April 30, it will pose a difficulty for election campaigns and rallies as it would coincide with the holy month of Ramadan.
On the other hand, if the June 18 election is held and goes to a runoff, which according to many observers and analysts is very likely with the opposition uniting behind one candidate, Erdogan would have a highly difficult job because it will coincide with Eid al-Adha. This means that most of the Hajj pilgrims, who are traditionally supporters of Erdogan and his party, are in Saudi Arabia for this religious ritual. Actually, Erdogan’s problem starts from the runoff. A poll conducted by Al-Monitor and Premise between August and November 2022 suggested that 28 percent of the respondents said they would vote for AKP.
The opposition parties have announced that if the AKP brings the election bill to the parliament for a date April 6 and before June 18, they will vote against it. In order for the parliament to make a decision for the elections, at least 360 members of parliament must support it, while the coalition of AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party has only 334 seats. The Kurdish party HDP has also announced in line with the opposition that it will not vote for rescheduled election date of April 6.
In general, the election date before April 6 is challenging for the parliamentary status of the AKP, as is the June 18 for Erdogan’s re-election chances. In this situation, two dangerous possibilities are more likely in Erdogan’s calculations. First, Erdogan may not lose the presidency but his party would lose the parliament, and second, Erdogan may lose the presidency but his party would keep the parliament. Given the broad powers of the presidency, the first option may be preferred.
HDP would be determining
The Turkish voters should choose 600 lawmakers for a five-year term, in addition to electing a president. To enter the parliament, the parties need to secure 7 percent of the votes.
The good news for Erdogan at present is that the HDP, as the third most powerful party in the parliament, has not joined the coalition of six parties and announced that it will independently introduce the presidential candidate. HDP co-chairman Perveen Buldan, speaking at his party’s provincial congress in Kars in northeastern Turkey said they will enter the presidential race with their own candidates. However, she announced that the party is ready to negotiate, so the six-party coalition may have to make concessions on minority rights to strengthen its front against the AKP. However, this issue is not so simple because firstly the ideological nature of the coalition is still rooted in Turkish nationalism, and secondly the closer we get to the elections, surely Erdogan and his nationalist allies in the National Movement Party will try more to stir up nationalist and pan-Turkist thoughts to increase the cost of coalition with Kurdish party.
Finally, it should be said that regardless of the poll results, Erdogan has shown over the past two decades that he is the man of election miracles and has managed to stay in power for 20 years taking advantage of the opposition mistakes and his own foresight. He still has the potential to work miracles and the biggest mistake of the opposition is to underestimate him.