With just 10 weeks to go, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have intensified their efforts to launch a joint presidential campaign in August 2014 and deal a decisive blow to the ruling AK Party, which won the March 30 local elections by a landslide. The much-anticipated cooperative effort, which has yet to produce a candidate and a platform after weeks of talks, remains one of the top issues in the Turkish capital's backrooms.
Last week, two developments fueled speculation that opposition parties were close to reaching an agreement. First, on May 28, Hürriyet announced that MHP chairman Devlet Bahçeli made an offer to President Abdullah Gül, whom the Elections Authority declared eligible for re-election in August 2014, to run as the opposition's unity candidate, which, the newspaper reported, the president kindly turned down. After lengthy deliberations with opposition figures and influential NGOs, executives from the CHP and the MHP held their first official meeting on Friday to discuss the prospects of a joint initiative for the upcoming presidential election. Following the first round of talks, both leaders stated that they remained hopeful while hinting that it would take a little while longer for opposition parties to make their pick from what increasingly appears to be a shallow talent pool. Announcing a candidate, however, is hardly the greatest challenge that the opposition campaign will have to face over the next weeks.
Over the past months, the opposition's highly publicized efforts to find a viable unity candidate has come to resemble a wild goose chase, as millions of initially hopeful voters slowly but irreversibly began to lose interest in the campaign. Opposition leaders, who turned to members of the old guard such as former Presidents Süleyman Demirel and Ahmet Necdet Sezer for guidance, have effectively alienated a sizeable voter bloc with no ideological attachment to either the government or the opposition. Meanwhile, recent polls indicate that the majority of voters believe that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would win the presidential vote if he decided to participate in the race, a popular trend that, in the absence of an opposition candidate to consider, might rapidly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Furthermore, it remains to be seen on what platform the opposition's unity candidate will run in August 2014. Tapping into anti-government sentiments and feeding fears about the lurking threats of an independent Kurdish state and Sharia law might be a winning formula for the political parties individually, but the current game plan hardly fits the bill when it comes to converting AK Party voters into opponents.
Despite its shortcomings, the ruling party remains unrivalled in its attempts to tackle the country's pressing issues including the Kurdish question. Unable to compete on this crucial front, the two parties also need to bridge the gap among themselves in key areas such as secularism and Kurdish rights.
Assuming that only the AK Party leadership's official announcement of their presidential candidate might set things in motion among opposition ranks, running down the clock might prove just enough for Erdoğan's increasingly likely bid.