Turkey’s opposition makes its choice

Turkey’s opposition parties, facing a do-or-die electoral test in May, have finally reached agreement on a single presidential candidate. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), will contest the election on behalf of a broad-based six-party alliance in an attempt to unseat authoritarian incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Under Erdoğan’s rule, Turkey – now sometimes called Türkiye, although I shall continue to use the more familiar form – has become a more dangerous place for opposition activity. But its democracy has not been extinguished; Erdoğan has been either unable or unwilling to copy Vladimir Putin’s Russia to that extent. While the 14 May election is unlikely to be a fair contest it still offers the opposition a real chance.

Erdoğan has been in power since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president. The presidency was originally a mostly ceremonial position, but Erdoğan narrowly won a referendum in 2017 to convert the country to a presidential system. He then won the 2018 election to take the executive presidency for the first of a maximum of two five-year terms.

But 2018, which at the time I described as “Turkish democracy’s last stand”, was far from an unequivocal triumph. Against five opponents, Erdoğan won with just 52.5% of the vote, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) fell just short of a majority in the legislature; he depends there on the support of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). And the following year he did poorly in local elections, losing control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, to the opposition CHP.

Problems have only multiplied since then. The economy is in poor shape [link added], and last year’s invasion of Ukraine upset Erdoğan’s carefully calibrated foreign policy, forcing him into some unwelcome choices. Then last month’s earthquake in south-eastern Turkey brought massive devastation and loss of life, with many blaming the government for its ineffective response.

A divided opposition would give the president his best chance. Last week that looked very possible, when one of the six parties, the right-wing Good Party, announced it was walking out of the talks due to dissatisfaction with Kılıçdaroğlu. But it was enticed back, and today they reached a consensus.

In addition to the CHP (secular centre-left), the opposition alliance embraces the Good Party (defectors from the MHP after it aligned with Erdoğan), the Democracy and Progress Party, the Future Party (both breakaways from the AKP), the Felicity Party (Islamist) and the Democrat Party (centrist). The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which came third last time, is not part of the alliance and is expected to again run its own candidate, although its voters would mostly back Kılıçdaroğlu in a runoff against Erdoğan.

So there’s no doubt that the opposition has considerable breadth to it. Whether Kılıçdaroğlu is its best standard-bearer is another question; while widely respected, he is 74 and is sometimes said to lack dynamism. Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu, also from the CHP, may have been a more energetic choice, but Erdoğan has attempted to sideline him with a prosecution for “insulting electoral officials”; his case is still under appeal.

Kılıçdaroğlu promises to be a conciliatory leader, and says he would quickly unwind the 2017 constitutional changes and restore the parliamentary regime. But to get into that position he will first have to overcome all the dirty tricks that Erdoğan will no doubt throw at him. There probably won’t be a more important election this year.

PS: There’s also a good backgrounder on the election at Reuters.


4 thoughts on “Turkey’s opposition makes its choice

  1. The Cyprus dispute will be a thorn for any Turkish leader, whoever wins.

    The Greek Cypriots are far from blameless in that though: they rejected the Annan Plan 19 years ago thinking a more favorable deal would quickly be offered by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

    Perhaps the Greek Cypriots should talk to the people of Western Sahara, still waiting after 42 years of further Moroccan occupation for the self-determination referendum they were promised would come swiftly by the UN in 1981?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. the 1999 republic referendum – only my second vote as a legal adult and even at 19 o knew Jones, Mack, Cleary et al were out to lunch about a second referendum on direct election. 23 and a half years later and still no 2nd referendum. Lidia Thorpe will also soon find out just how long it will be after she sinks the upcoming referendum before Labor touches Treaty or Truth Telling, let alone another go at a Voice.


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