Competition for 2019 elections begins early

Published 26.08.2017 00:16

Since the founding of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its eventual ascension to power in 2002, the ruling and opposition political parties have remained more or less unchanged. As the AK Party strengthened its position in Turkish politics, the opposition could hardly put up a challenge in a number of elections over the years.

Only after the elections on July 7, 2015 did the opposition have the opportunity to form a coalition government, but the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not form an alliance with the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which could have put the very fabric of the Turkish state in danger.

Fast forward two years and the April 16 constitutional referendum, proposed by the ruling AK Party, quickly became the issue of a heated debate, not just in Turkey, but also in the West, particularly in Europe. Although Turkey is not as strong as it was during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Turkish politics continues to be a key part of European politics, and when the referendum was interpreted through Germany's political perspective, a schizophrenic attitude underlying the German news on Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was apparent.

After a majority of the Turkish electorate approved the proposed constitutional amendments, President Erdoğan officially reassumed leadership in the AK Party and has since revamped its Central Executive Committee and the party cadre, so as to relieve it from what he called a "mental fatigue." And taking the social demands for change into consideration, the AK Party has already begun to prepare itself for the presidential elections set for 2019.

Meanwhile, the latest polls by research firm GENAR showed the AK Party could receive 51 percent of the vote, followed by 25 percent for the Republican People's Party (CHP), 12 percent for the MHP, 9 percent going to the HDP, and the rest going to other political parties. The fact is, these ratios have remained more or less unchanged in the last decade but now with the support of a number of European states, the opposition parties are looking to change that.

The main opposition CHP has been caught in a social deadlock. Supported by a wealthy and educated segment of the society, it has made unsuccessful attempts to reach out to young and ordinary voters to broaden its voter base.

Instead of concentrating and protesting the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the PKK or the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the CHP's recent "Justice March" only reconsolidated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's intra-party power.

As the president of a long-established research institute, I believe that the CHP cannot present itself to the Turkish electorate as an alternative political power and challenge the AK Party's position. Thus, it will continue to look for alliances in upcoming presidential elections in 2019.

The MHP, on the other hand, may not have a large voter base like the CHP but it continues to be a key player in Turkish politics. After dealing with a relatively prolonged intraparty opposition, the MHP finally looks united. The dissidents, however, are planning to form a new political party under the leadership of Meral Akşener.

During the last couple of elections, this dissident group within the MHP has tried to overthrow its Chairman Devlet Bahçeli. They supported Erdoğan against Bahçeli in the presidential elections. They later decided to support the CHP and the HDP during the recent referendum, whereas the MHP was in full agreement with the AK Party and made an electoral alliance.

Their performance in the upcoming elections will be closely observed by the public as their current voter base constitutes only 4 percent of the MHP's electorate. I believe that Akşener's future career might resemble that of Hillary Clinton, whose exhausted political image contributed to the electoral triumph of Donald Trump.

In short, the main question in Turkish politics remains the same: Will the ruling AK Party continue to be Turkey's sole and central political player? In this respect, President Erdoğan aims at taking the AK Party above the 50 percent share of the vote, not only in the presidential but also the parliamentary elections.

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