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Perspectives of the political opposition in Turkey


Standpoint of Turkey

Perspectives of the political opposition in Turkey

Ali Bayramoğlu


Ali Bayramoğlu

Political scientist

In this interview, Ali Bayramoglu gives a synopsis of the political forces in Turkey capable of opposing Erdogan. The new presidential election - through a direct two-round vote system - which will take place in 2019, could be a reshuffle of the cards and could arise new forms of opposition.

What are the expectations from Meral Akşener and the party she will be forming?

Ali Bayramoglu: The voting rates of the latest referendum in Turkey, the difference of votes between the opposition and AKP being only one per cent just around one million votes, as well as the new runoff election system that was introduced for the presidential election, excited the opposition. It was perceived as sort of a hope against the despair created by the autocratic regime in Turkey and the despair that was created by Erdogan coming out of the elections victoriously.

Lately, the political notions have been changing meaning quiet rapidly in Turkey. What should we think of when you say opposition or whom do you refer to?

The area covered by the notion of opposition is very wide vis a vis the actual dominant party and the dominant social group. These are Kurds, the nationalists having differing opinions, leftists, liberals, Kemalists etc.

Could this opposition be an alternative to Erdogan?

This is the fundamental problem that stands in front of Turkey. It is about “how all these groups can come together to beat Erdogan”. Meral Akşener is a candidate that emerged from this thought frame. She comes from MHP but she pretends to represent an opposition beyond MHP. The nationalist party MHP has been going through hard times, the party is divided at the top as well as at the bottom. Akşener was one of the most important opposition figures at the top. Akşener is a politician making huge impression, she is the former Minister of Interior. The antimilitarist role she played during the 28 February military coup days is till remembered, she has the experience of being a member of DYP a more centre-right party. Therefore she is a ülkücü (nationalist) who can be accepted by more centrist groups and powers. She has also proved being persevering. She has not given up against Devlet Bahçeli and other aggressive groups in the last year and a half. She has been thrown out of her party, her rallies were raided down but after all, she managed to survive.

Koray Aydın, former MHP member said he would continue his path with Akşener while announcing she would be a presidential candidate for 2019. What are the odds?

Meral Akşener is getting stronger for at least giving the right wing such a hope. In this respect , it is significant that she is forming a new party. According to the surveys, MHP is a party that is loosing support. From a party that had 12% potential, MHP now has a rate that is somewhere between 4 to 5%. Akşener might attract those votes. Most probably she will not only attract those who are not happy with MHP but some off of AKP as well. Time will show, but still Meral Akşener forming a party is proof of political mobility that was absent in Turkey since a long time. In the surveys that include Akşener and Erdogan, Erdogan cannot reach the adequate vote rate to be elected at the first round. But this data does not answer the question of “is Akşener an alternative to Erdogan, can she beat him?” This movement Akşener started is an important development in the Turkish political life. It will have an impact. It will at least steel some votes from AKP. But can she beat her or rather can Akşener be the one to represent the opposition? I don’t think so.

But Akşener claims to be a party that would welcome not only the nationalists, but a party that would welcome right and left wings, how should we take it?

It is not enough to just claim it, she might be someone who got out of MHP but nationalism marks don’t disappear that easily. Will the Kurds act together with Akşener? Will Akşener be able to use expressions such as “Kurdish solution”? When you look at all these things, Akşener is not that an easy candidate the opposition parts would come to an agreement on. Akşener is a candidate some people would vote easily and some not. But as I said before, Akşener taking action, MHP being shaken is important in the sense of becoming conscious of AKP having a new competitor. In the eyes of the society, the fact that Akşener is being more opposition then them and taking Erdogan on as opposition is precious.

Who can be a candidate to win against Erdogan, who can be a hope?

This is a very important question. That is all the search is about. However we don’t know the answer. It is too soon to make such a guess. However Erdogan probably knows that this transition to presidential system and the election system are a mistake and regrets it. Even when there was no organized opposition in Turkey, he managed to unite 49% of population against him, in a sense he himself consolidated and shaped that mass of population

Would that mass gather around one candidate?

That’s not easy. How would Kurds reconcile with the nationalists and CHP come to terms with the conservatives. No one has yet developed a strategy or a relation in that direction. It is possible to see some concrete searches within time. But there isn’t any joint candidate name on the horizon.

Recently Erdogan uses sentences such as “we have difficult days ahead”, words that the society are not used to hear. It is obvious he sees that Kılıçdaroğlu is not the only one facing him and that he is uncomfortable with this movement Akşener started. Are Erdogan’s moves foreseeable according to you?

The division amongst the opposition is one of the strongest trump cards of Erdogan and he will be playing it. Making a move against different parts of the opposite side, following the divide and rule policies is a state tradition very well working in Turkey since Abdülhamid. For example, today’s Kurdish issue is one example of that. At the last referendum Kurds supported Erdogan at a fifty-fifty rate. This could increase more if Erdogan said one or two positive sentences about the Kurdish issue. Another move he could make would be to activate his own party. There are three elections, consecutively and he sees them as a whole. Thereby he tries to move forward with AKP’s first term spirit.

The “New Turkey” notion was in circulation, but was worn out very quickly, there are a lot of things that stayed in the past. How will the new AKP spirit look like?

It seems like this time it is going to be a political discourse and structure constructed on local and conservative identity rather than a democratic Turkey focused on reforms. As a matter of fact the “local and national discourse” and the populist policies and patriarchal constitutional order that reflects this are the explicit indicators of this spirit. The new AKP spirit, a conservative republic spirit is emerging and will appear.

Kurds will not be able to have a candidate of their own, even if they do so this candidate won’t be able to pass on to the second round. That’s why they need to choose. Recently they supported CHP. However neither Kılıçdaroğlu nor Akşener can utter profound proposals on Kurdish issue. What policy would HDP take?

Yes the Kurdish voters are very important. Those voting for AKP will most probably continue to vote for them. But there is a very interesting paradox here. If Akşener talks in favor of Kurds, this would play to Bahçeli’s hand. This is also true for Erdogan. If he or she  gets Kurds votes, he or she would lose votes from elsewhere. So each candidate will have to bear this in mind. We don’t know what might happen 6 months before the 2019 elections but we don’t expect a new discourse with regards to the Kurdish issue. Unfortunately we don’t live in such a Turkey. We are in a very nationalist equation and an anti-Kurd power block. Kurdish electors are important but who would talk to that constituency? That is the question. Talking with HDP means a new solution to Kurdish issue, a new policy. We might expect a picture where the active mentioning of Kurdish issue will be more limited and Kurd electors will be voting up more for the opposition. But the opposition’s leader is very important.

Is there any politician that everybody would vote for in Turkey?

Although it is a remote possibility, if a candidate such Abdullah Gül would come out then there would be a very serious race in Turkey and Gül could beat up Erdogan. This would mean a huge and profound earthquake for Turkey. But neither Akşener nor Kılıçdaroğlu is Gül. In this society, more liberal conservative people would thoroughly mean something. Although Gül is from the Islamist base he can be a bridge between the two world.



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