Escalation of tension between the alliance of Turkish opposition parties has been recorded lately despite their joint commitment to oppose the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Electoral success in urban centers in the 2019 municipal elections, where the opposition fielded joint candidates, has made it see next June’s election as an ideal opportunity to topple Erdogan, underlining, moreover, that he wants to undo the damage he has caused the president in the economy and to restore the democratic freedoms that his regime eroded.
The recent standoff between the alliance members was sparked by disagreement over the composition of the government in the post-Erdogan era and has given rise to deeper disagreements, such as who will be the common candidate against the Turkish president in the election.
At the core of the opposition party alliance is the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s oldest secular, center-left party and the biggest opposition force, and the nationalist, conservative Good Party (IYI) founded in 2018, which – despite his right-wing, ultra-nationalist roots – he is trying to win over the Centre.
The leaders of the two parties, Mr Kemal Kilindaroglu (CHP) and the Meral Aksener (IYI), publicly commit to cordial cooperation. However, there are deep and unbridgeable rifts between them regarding the policy they will follow in the next election.
The main point of contention, as mentioned above, is the choice of a common candidate to compete with the current Turkish president. The 73-year-old Kilicdaroglu wants to run for the presidency himself, although opinion polls show he will not be able to beat Erdogan. Aksener is shortlisting for the position the popular mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavas, a person Kilicdaroglu has publicly rejected.
The main point of contention is the choice of a common candidate who will compete with the current Turkish president.
Struggles for agreements
Another cause of friction is the strong rumor of Kilicdaroglu making deals with smaller opposition parties, such as the Democracy and Progress Party (Deva) of Ali Babacan, Erdogan’s former economy minister. Aksener’s party fears that the CHP leader will promise Babacan the portfolio of economy minister, which is being contested by the Good Party, in exchange for supporting his candidacy.
Aksener also frowns on Kilicdaroglu’s overtures to the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is not a member of the six-party opposition alliance and is anathema to Turkish nationalists because of its support for the Kurds.
Both the Republican People’s Party and the Good Party accuse each other of putting party interest above the good of the country and rejecting any compromise solution. The rift between them is such that they do not rule out putting down different candidates in the first electoral round of the presidential election and agreeing on a common face, if one of the two manages to get through to the second round. Analysts consider the practice unavoidable mainly because of the damage one candidate may cause to another during the pre-election period. As Berk Essen, an associate professor at Sabancı University, points out, “there are big cracks in Turkey and Erdogan knows how to exploit them.”