In Turkey and elsewhere, a strong opposition is the cornerstone of democracy. The more influential opposition parties are, the healthier and more institutionalized the country's democracy becomes. Over the past decade, therefore, an oft-voiced complaint about Turkish democracy has been the lack of competent and capable political parties in opposition. While the ruling AK Party won eight consecutive elections since 2002, opposition parties have been unable to persuade voters and therefore have largely lost faith. Having suffered a series of defeats, the secularist-Kemalist CHP (Republican People's Party) and the Turkish nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) have stopped trying to reform their platforms to perform better in the upcoming presidential election. In the past, the influence of both parties has been largely regionalized. In contrast, the AK Party has steadily enjoyed nationwide popularity.
When foreign journalists and researchers examine Turkish democracy, they tend to concentrate on the AK Party and turn a blind eye to the state of opposition parties - a bias that constructs an unrealistic view about the country's affairs in the international arena. Surely enough, the ruling party has capitalized on its strengths, such as charismatic leadership and innovative policies, to achieve notable success. The lack of competition, however, has been an undeniable factor for the AK Party's emergence as a serial winner.
The opposition's choice of presidential candidate for the August 2014 vote did little to challenge conventional wisdom about their incompetence. After lengthy deliberations, the left-wing CHP and the nationalist MHP have settled on a candidate with neither leftist nor nationalist credentials. Instead, they picked Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, a conservative with close ties to AK Party circles.
An academic by trade, İhsanoğlu comes from a religious background and is best known for his role as Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The nomination of İhsanoğlu, who has never been close to either party's ideology, was not exactly indicative of a smart election strategy. Instead, the opposition's choice reflected an overall lack of confidence in the popularity and political platforms of the two largest opposition parties. Knowing that they have little to offer to voters, the parties thus implicitly admitted to have reached a new level of desperation in the face of the still-popular AK Party and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom pundits expect to clinch the nomination today.
İhsanoğlu's candidacy has also left the CHP leadership on the verge of a serious crisis, as their candidate of choice failed to reconcile the party organization's core ideological values. Left-wingers, Kemalists and the Alevi community, which collectively constitute the majority of CHP voters, have publicly challenged the decision and announced that they were unwilling to endorse İhsanoğlu. Similarly, MHP supporters have raised objections despite the party's strongly institutionalized disciplinary code. It remains to be seen whether or not the joint candidate, who apparently failed to impress the core constituencies of his campaign, will succeed in winning over the masses. His chances are slim, though, considering that more Turkish people seem to have heard of the Brazilian national team's star player, Neymar Jr., than Mr.İhsanoğlu.
The bigger picture, however, is even more unsettling: How the opposition parties jumped at the opportunity of nominating a little-known, conservative academic attests to the crisis of Turkey's political opposition, whose lack of creativity has turned into a chronic issue. To make matters worse, the rigid institutional structures within both the CHP and MHP increasingly discourage young people seeking to become politically active. At this point, the entire country has a stake in the future of opposition parties: In order for Turkish democracy to become stronger, the opposition needs to consider making some major changes to their operations. A major defeat in the upcoming presidential race might just present the opposition ranks with the opportunity to usher in a period of transformation and renewal for obviously obsolete organizations.