Turkish opposition welcoming Erdoğan as president

Here is my comment for Today’s Zaman, April 30:

In case you have been wondering, the latest news from Ankara is the same old news. After a month of not much happening, the two opposition parties at the Kemalist-Nationalist axis have come to the decision that it is better to nominate their own respective candidates for the two-round presidential election scheduled for Aug. 10 with a run-off on Aug. 24, if necessary.

It seems that all the hopes of those in the camp opposed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for an election alliance between the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) about a joint candidate have been dashed.

After some deliberations within the party, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced that the name that currently stands out as likely to be the challenger to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate is Yılmaz Büyükerşen, popular mayor of Eskişehir and a staunch Kemalist. A possible contender within the CHP is Metin Feyzioğlu, president of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB), also a fierce republican.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli also declared that his party will choose a candidate “who is a respected member of our party to protect our unitary structure, territorial integrity and national state.”

So, the two parties will go their own separate ways.

Why? The reasoning is old and rusty: Sources from the two parties talk about a “principled stand” and express hope that the party that goes to the second round run-off election will be able to claim a higher vote percentage in order to effectively challenge the AKP in the parliamentary elections next year.

So, nothing new on that front. One can understand the disappointment of all those who voted against the AKP — Erdoğan, to be specific — in March 30 local polls, with the long-held belief that only a joint candidate would have a chance to change the course of politics in Turkey.

Inevitably, this news will boost Erdoğan’s intention to run in August. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party/ Peoples’ Democracy Party (BDP/HDP) declaration that their candidate would also join the race had already encouraged him.

The gates are open even wider for him now.

If the opposition does not change its mind, there will be at least four candidates, and perhaps even more, since it only takes 20 deputies to nominate one.

One can already take it for granted that, if, for example, Büyükerşen or Feyzioğlu runs for the post, he will not get any significant percentage of Kurdish votes, since the CHP has had nothing to say about a solution to the Kurdish issue. The MHP’s chances of reaching voters beyond the party’s known spectrum are less than minimal.

Kurdish votes will determine the next president, as everybody knows.

So, Erdoğan now holds all the cards and will call the shots.

There are two choices left to him and both greatly serve his interests.

He may “allow” President Abdullah Gül to run, but the rumor is that unless he is clearly endorsed for another term, Gül is determined to step aside from politics for a while.

So, the path is wide open and Erdoğan can easily launch his campaign for real on June 29, as expected. There will be nothing to stop him from then on.

With a brain-dead opposition, one can expect nothing different.

If it had shown signs of life, it might have considered the buzz about people like Mansur Yavaş, who lost by a small margin in the Ankara mayoral election, or respected figures from the judiciary, such as Haşim Kılıç, the chief judge of the Constitutional Court, or Sami Selçuk, a former chairman of the Supreme Court of Appeals. But, a tactical alliance is a remote possibility now.

The opposition may be missing the point that once the elections in August are over, Turkey may be further in the grip of a single-man rule, during which a party grabs full control of the state and begins to demolish whatever remains of the already crippled checks and balances in the system.

Haşim Kılıç may still challenge Erdoğan as a candidate independently — also a weak possibility — but even if he does not, Kılıç’s days in that critical position are numbered because early next year he will retire.

Thereafter, Erdoğan can use his powers to design a top court according to his wishes. In other words, the top court’s democratic resistance has a limited time frame.

The good news is that, as the AKP’s spin doctors have fed it to the media, beginning in May, Erdoğan will take some reform steps on the Halki Seminary, Alevis, normalization with Israel, etc. But, given his recent track record and the corruption cases pending, it should be taken with large pinches of salt.


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