How Turkey's Jumbled Opposition Bloc Can Take Erdogan Down
Turkey heads to the polls in May, with a newly formed opposition bloc hoping to dislodge President Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Despite some party infighting, many remain hopeful they can bring an end to Erdogan's 20 years in power. But first, clarity from within a complicated coalition is needed.
ISTANBUL — Turkey was hit by a political earthquake recently, at the same time that we were mourning the victims of the actual earthquakes. It was a crisis triggered among the main opposition coalition, the so-called “ the table of six,” by the inner dynamics of the nationalist Good Party (IYI) that resulted in a renewed understanding among the rearranged table.
The six-party coalition has been set up to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “one-man rule” and is looking to dislodge him after 20 years in power in the country’s upcoming national elections scheduled on May 14.
I am not a fan of analyses based on a who-said-or-did-what perspective, nor those focusing on the actors themselves either. I won’t attempt to analyze the political actors unless the daily agenda forces me to. They are not my priority: the condition of our society and our political system are what matters to me.
We were all told to follow the tabloid version of the story, articles based on hot gossip and anonymous statements full of conspiracy theories about the disagreements of the table of six, and the question of who would run against Erdoğan.
The truth is that there were three crises in one. The first is what we call the political crisis, which is actually shortcomings in collaboration and taking control of the process. The second is the structural problems of the political parties. And the third is the gap between politics and the vital needs of the society.
From day one, there were shortcomings in the general functioning of the table of the six — in their ability to act together in critical situations and, more importantly, in their ability to take control of the process. There were clues for these in recent times, such as the different stances the opposition parties took for the issue of providing constitutional protection for the headscarf.
The second base, the states of mind that have triggered the crisis, points to a structural problem of the political parties, which is shared by all parties in Turkey in varying intensity but functions the same. The organization that we call a party has three layers: the leadership, the institutional-organizational texture and the voters. Nearly all of the parties in Turkey experience disharmony among their own three layers.
Desperation and rage grow with each earthquake and political or financial crisis.
The leaders work with a very small group of politicians and advisors who are well informed about the party. They decide to say what, when and where together with this team. The teams are mostly formed of yes-men rather than people who would provide plurality.
These groups can shape their party in any way they want to, as they are the deciders of the candidacies in any elections and have the power to fire the people from elected positions within the party and assign others in their place. The legal framework for the political parties in Turkey grants the leaders with the power to do so and they exploit that power as much as they can.
It’s impossible to talk about in-party democracy. All those boards, debates, votes and congresses are for show. All of these in-party bodies have to eventually approve whatever the will of the leader is.
The party organizations are somehow different. There are various groups, belongings and separations due to intellectual and ideological differences. At the end of the day, the deciding factor in any matter is not about ideas but the collaborations among or temporary alliances between these groups and cliques. There are no intellectual debates in any party organizations’ congresses and boards anymore. There are conflicts among groups and individuals, alliances and name lists.
In addition to the lack of in-party democracy, sometimes there are differences that occur regarding stances, preferences and sensitivities among the three layers. Strategies are not designed from the bottom to the top. Differences among the three layers are kept in the family since everybody gets in line according to the choice of the leaders. And sometimes, depending on their influence, the groups within the organization can force a leader to take a different stance. This recent crisis with the IYI rooted from this structural problem, for instance.
The crisis turned into an existentialist issue not just for IYI but the rest of the table of six as well. This disagreement worked in the favor of the Erdogan’s argument for consistency. More importantly, both those who are critical towards and suspicious of the table of six and those who focus on the competition among the six suddenly faced the possibility of the AKP regime continuing.
The needs and asks of the society are crucial at this point as Turkey faces risks and opportunities. Because the society has lost its shared horizon and the sense of “us.” Desperation, the feeling of having no future, hopelessness and rage grow with each earthquake and political or financial crisis. The public order and all of the public institutions of the central rule are heavily damaged. There are no rules. We face an arbitrary, centralistic and authoritarian government.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu Chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), announcing candidacy in the presidential election.
Government must go
Turkey needs a societal agreement on old ancient issues, such as weakened secularism, the archaic education system and the loss in the faith in the idea of the rule of law alongside new challenges, such as climate change and the global struggle for the division of the resources. The division of the powers must be restored; the public administration and nearly all of the institutions must be rebuilt.
The AKP government is the source of some of these problems and a booster for some others. Therefore, the government must go before the course is changed. And the one and only method to success is dependent on politics and the qualities of the political actors.
The table of six chose opposing President Erdoğan over the claim of building democracy.
Two thirds of the society are not happy with how things are being done, but this does not reflect political preferences. In a way, the opposition has a potential 60% or the vote. It is trying to reach 51% while the government is trying to increase its support, which has decreased to 35-40% from 51%.
The table of six has the opportunity to position themselves as rebuilding democracy. Turkish nationalists and the Kurds, the conservatives and the secularists, the left wingers and the right wingers can develop politics that strengthens the democratic system. The table of six can transform into a democracy movement from this perspective and can enjoy support from everyone from the women’s movement to the environmentalists; from the trade unions to civil society.
Only with that goal in mind can an atmosphere be created in which everybody is involved in the country’s future. Unfortunately, the table of six chose opposing President Erdoğan over the claim of building democracy. And since the first step is changing the government, everything naturally was squeezed into this struggle.
The table of six has regrouped, so it seems that the crisis is averted. More importantly, it now seems possible to divert the 60% plus potential of the opposition towards a singular target. On the other hand, one should be wary of future crises considering the structural problems of the parties.