Turkey opposition dazed after Erdogan poll knockout
Leaders of the traditional opposition parties are all under pressure after failing to stop the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in its tracks on November 1, when it defied pollsters’ expectations and regained an overall majority.
Analysts say it will be another uphill battle to defeat the AKP in 2019 — when legislative and presidential polls are scheduled — as it appears to have successfully corralled voters from the nationalists and the large Kurdish minority.
But it is far from certain any of the embattled party bosses will fall on their swords despite the clear message from Turkey’s 54 million strong electorate.
“This tradition simply does not exist in Turkey. Political leaders do not want to quit even after an election defeat, and rarely admit their errors,” said Serkan Demirtas of the Hurriyet Daily News.
“We have a chaotic opposition against a party which has been issuing the orders in Turkey for years and which is showing no signs of wear and tear.”
– ‘Credibility problem’ –
It’s now open season within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) despite it managing to increase its share of the vote from the June election — albeit by just 400,000, giving it 134 MPs.
The party of modern Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has looked distinctly lacklustre in recent years and failed to make any real dents in the AKP’s armour.
Its bespectacled leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant who hails from Turkey’s Alevi community, is now the firing line.
He took over in 2010 after former CHP leader Deniz Baykal was sunk by a sex tape scandal, quickly adopting a “Mr Clean” image and going on the offensive against the AKP’s perceived corruption and extravagance.
But the 66-year-old, who is known as “Turkey’s Gandhi” for his physical resemblance to the former Indian anti-colonialist leader, has failed to breathe new fire into the party which may be crying out for a younger leader.
Two prominent MPs — Muharrem Ince and Umut Oran — say they can muster sufficient signatures to call an emergency meeting aimed at unseating Kilicdaroglu.
“Would you agree to go on trial for a seventh time being represented by a lawyer who has already lost your case six times in a row?” asked Ince, referring to the succession of CHP election defeats.
“The CHP has a credibility problem and those behind this failure should answer to party delegates,” said the fiery 51-year-old.
Another who has said he will throw his cap into the ring is renowned leftwing journalist Mustafa Balbay, who spent almost five years in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.
– ‘Mr No’ –
The atmosphere is even worse in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) camp, which suffered a major drubbing and won only 40 seats, half its haul in the June election.
Election night rumours that its veteran leader Devlet Bahceli would quit were quickly denied.
“I will never go,” declared the 67-year-old, dubbed “Mr No” for his categoric refusal to join any coalition after the June vote left Turkey with a hung parliament.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu quipped at the time that the only thing Bahceli would say yes to was a cup of tea.
Bahceli’s first post-election move was to sack a coterie of party rebels who dared to question whether he should stay on until the next MHP congress in 2017.
Defeat has been just as difficult to digest at the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), which had been celebrating a historic breakthrough in June when it became the first pro-Kurdish movement to surpass the 10-percent threshold to enter parliament.
Under charismatic young co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP succeeded in broadening its appeal from a traditional Kurdish base to attract liberal Turks.
But the surging violence between Kurdish rebels and Turkish security forces saw voters desert the HDP in droves. It lost one million votes and barely managed to scrape into parliament this time, dropping from 80 seats to 59.
Under HDP rules, Demirtas is not allowed to seek a third term and should stand down at the party congress in January. Nonetheless, his charisma makes him by far the HDP’s biggest asset.
Analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute said the AKP, born out of the ashes of Islamist parties in 2001, had managed to channel the votes of the conservative right, long the main political force in Turkey.
“And it doesn’t seem anything can stop its domination.”