Kilicdaroglu: The candidate who emerged from the crisis
DENIZ WILSON- The opposition coalition’s selected candidate for president in the May elections is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition party’s leader. Though this possibility was in the air for a long time, the objections of the nationalist Good Party, one of the members of the opposition coalition, caused a big political crisis. An agreement was reached after the arguments that spanned three days, and Kilicdaroglu was announced as their candidate.
Turkey has been led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002. It remains to be seen whether Kilicdaroglu can bring Erdogan down from his chair, but it is a fact that this will be Erdogan’s most difficult election yet. Everyone is curious about whether Turkey, which is celebrating its first centennial in 2023, will step into its new century with Erdoganism or whether a tale spanning twenty years will come to an end.
The road to the elections
Due to the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey held a referendum in 2017 while in a state of emergency. Turkey’s form of government changed to a presidential system as a result of this referendum, and in 2018, President Erdogan won the first election of this system. Under the new system, the Presidency was endowed with authoritarian powers and the already eroding democratic values of the country took another hit. The ongoing economic crisis that followed the currency crisis, which itself had begun soon after the election, has been in flux for the past five years.
In the 2019 elections that took place in this context, the two main actors of the opposition, the Kemalist social democracy Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the nationalist Good Party had joined forces. Especially since the party of the Kurdish minority with a strong base across many cities, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), did not nominate a candidate, the opposition made significant gains. Opposition candidates Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas won in Istanbul and Ankara, the country's two largest metropolitan cities which had been governed by Erdogan's political tradition since 1994.
Emboldened by these victories, the CHP and the Good Party decided to work together in the next election and formed the opposition coalition known as the Table of Six alongside Ali Babacan, who had broken off from the AKP and founded the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), Ahmet Davutoglu who had founded the Future Party, the Islamist Felicity Party, and the centrist Democrat Party. Though this coalition initially came together for a return to the parliamentary system from the presidential one, it soon became an electoral coalition.
In the meantime, the declaration of a presidential candidate was left to the end while reaching a consensus on principles was prioritized. The constitutional amendment proposal was made, and the Common Policies Consensus Paper was accepted and released. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu began to signal his willingness to be the candidate, and he received the support of four parties. However, the Good Party did not support Kilicdaroglu in this endeavor. According to the Good Party, Kilicdaroglu had a low likelihood of winning the election and Ankara Mayor Yavas and Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu, who are widely popular among the public, should have been nominated instead. Such was the political atmosphere when the March 3 meeting that would determine the fate of the opposition began.
The Table collapses
Following the announcement that the election would be held on May 14, questions regarding the candidate increased. The Table of Six’s March 3 meeting would be reserved for determining a candidate. With the support of the other four parties in the coalition, Kilicdaroglu informed Good Party leader Aksener that he would like to be the candidate. Aksener, however, preferred either Yavas or Imamoglu to be candidates instead of Kilicdaroglu. Upon this, Kilicdaroglu staked his claim and insisted on his candidacy. Aksener said that she would need to consult her party’s executives on the matter and left the meeting under the agreement that they would reconvene on Monday. The next day, following her meeting with party executives, Aksener called Yavas and Imamoglu to declare their candidacies in harsh terms. Yavas and Imamoglu’s rejection of this request caused the Table of Six to dissolve.
Following this development which astonished all segments of the opposition in Turkey, a lot of pressure was directed towards Aksener. Many opposition members who strongly believed that the opposition needed to work together to defeat Erdogan hit Aksener with a barrage of criticism. Accusations from both groups drew attention on social media. But another suggestion during the secret meetings on Sunday, February 5 energized the opposition.
According to the suggestion made to Aksener, Kilicdaroglu would be president while the two mayors would be running as Vice Presidents. When this proposal was revealed to the public, the pressure on Aksener increased once more. As a result of the shuttle diplomacy and the meetings between the parties, Aksener announced that she had changed her mind and would attend the March 6 meeting at which she had previously said she would not be present.
The Table reunites
At the meeting held at the headquarters of the Felicity Party, the announcement that Kemal Kilicdaroglu was the presidential candidate of the Table of Six in addition to a 12-item statement was made. According to the statement, the head of the other five parties would also be in consideration for Vice President. According to the system adopted in 2017, the job description of the Vice President is rather vague. The opposition took advantage of this ambiguity and used the Vice Presidency for their own political interests.
After this crisis and subsequent recovery, some commented that the opposition has regained its vitality. An end to the months of uncertainty led to renewed vigor among those of the opposition. According to expert journalist Fikret Bila, Kilicdaroglu has a very high chance of being elected. Bila wrote:
“Under normal conditions, if the integrity of the ballot box is secured and a democratic election is held, Kilicdaroglu would win the election by a significant margin. If the six parties at the table sincerely stand behind Kilicdaroglu, according to the polls, the alliance would get between 40 and 45 percent of the vote. It is also understood from the statements of HDP spokespersons that HDP will support Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy. With the support of the HDP and the socialist left in the same alliance, Kilicdaroglu can be elected by taking 55 to 60 percent of the vote.”
Former Haberturk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altayli also believes that the Table came out strong from this crisis. According to Altayli, “The Table of Six, which has now turned into the Nation Alliance, came out of this crisis stronger than before. Nietzsche's words hold true once again, ‘What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.’ At least for now. No politics could stand before the power of society. They could not ignore the voice of the social opposition.”
On the part of the government, this reinvigoration has caused anxiety. According to Abdulkadir Selvi, a prominent columnist for the pro-government daily Hurriyet, this crisis has done a lot of damage to the opposition. Selvi said, “The presidential crisis has been overcome at the Table of Six. But it did a lot of damage. Next comes the second source of crisis, which is the parliamentary lists. After Aksener was forced to return to the Table, Kilicdaroglu took both the presidential candidacy and strengthened his hand. The only winner at this table was Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Kilicdaroglu is expected to make room for other parties from among CHP lists. The Good Party will not give spots to other parties, but will be on the joint list where it is weak.”
After the opposition candidate has been determined, Turkey will be the scene of the election race for a little more than two months. The united image of the opposition frightens Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years. A Turkey in which authoritarian power under Erdogan's leadership has increased or the opposition has defeated Erdoganism is a Turkey that has the power to shake up both the region and the world.