The Nation Alliance, Turkey’s opposition bloc against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)-led People’s Alliance, does not seem to have sustainable and concrete policies that address the main problems in the country and it lacks harmony while its inner dynamics prove to be fragile due to the opaque involvement of conflicting ideologies under a single roof, according to experts, who noted that a new alliance may soon be on the horizon.
Consisting of the center-left main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the right-wing Good Party (IP), conservative Felicity Party (SP) and the center-right Democrat Party (DP), the Nation Alliance has been focusing its policies on anti-Erdoğan rhetoric and has experienced internal problems mainly due to veiled cooperation with the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). For instance, last week, IP Chairperson Meral Akşener blamed the bloc for making her party losing precincts deemed winnable in the 2019 local elections.
Noting that her party had not won any provincial-level municipalities in the March 31 elections, Akşener told a local broadcast that it was not her priority.
“If making the party win municipalities was my priority, the partnership would have been shaken,” Akşener said, adding that they had to make a decision between IP and “Turkey’s interests” and they chose the latter.
Both the CHP and IP had candidates in several cities, including Niğde, Uşak and the Şile district in Istanbul, but both lost the precincts to the AK Party. The People's Alliance received 51.6% of the votes and won more than 700 municipalities in the March 31 local elections but lost top cities like Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, as well as nationalist strongholds like Mersin and Adana, to the Nation Alliance.
Meanwhile, the Nation Alliance nominated joint candidates in several provinces and won, but IP candidates running on their own in several municipalities lost the elections. For instance, the IP won 18 district municipalities and was unable to win any metropolitan municipalities.
“The Nation Alliance follows a policy that revolves around toppling the Erdoğan government,” journalist Mahmut Övür told Daily Sabah, adding that he does not see them considering the current political climate in Turkey or the world as they follow a domestic politics-focused approach.
The anti-Erdoğan rhetoric considered the common denominator among the bloc’s members does not seem sustainable.
“Municipal and general elections have never been similar. The voters cast their votes with other concerns in local elections, but the Nation Alliance seems to do politics by rote,” Övür said, adding that such an approach would not be able to sustain IP’s covert partnership with the HDP. Övür continued by saying that he believes things could take a distinct turn by 2023 because IP’s base, which consists of nationalist and conservative voters, does not approve of any sort of cooperation with the pro-PKK HDP.
Political scientist Oğuzhan Bilgin agreed that secret cooperation with the HDP has been one of the most controversial discussion points in the bloc, which he said has formed its alliance through a rhetoric of hatred.
“The party’s voter base cannot make sense of it because IP was formed precisely because they deemed the MHP was not nationalist enough,” Bilgin said, adding that the HDP had also reacted against IP’s hostile stance against it as they claimed the bloc won some precincts as a result of veiled cooperation and accused IP of being “ashamed of” openly admitting cooperation.
Bilgin continued by saying that the Nation Alliance built itself through anti-politics and anti-Erdoğan rhetoric and this is why they use a hostile and discriminating tone rather than political language.
“A political alliance’s use of anti-politics language is a contradiction and it is difficult to make any political gains with such contradictions,” Bilgin said. “Even if they were to make any gains, the path that they would follow after such a victory also seems vague.”
Although there are paradoxes and controversies regarding the political perception of the two main members of the alliance, they manage to tolerate this through their hostility toward the AK Party, Övür said. While IP appeals to a nationalist voter base and is strictly against coups and memorandums, CHP’s voter base seems to be on the other side of the spectrum. For instance, Akşener strictly criticized the declaration by a group of retired admirals last month, which critics said had “clear coup sentiments.” The IP chair warned that such declarations would only cause Turkey more damage. But on the other hand, CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu rejected the claims that the declaration had any reference to coups.
"What coup are you talking about? Where on earth have the retired people organized a coup? It (the government) has lost its mind," said Kılıçdaroğlu.
However, the main opposition leader seemed to be the only one with this point of view, as the declaration drew strong condemnation and criticism from officials and the people, who argued it implied interference in democracy and the will of the people.
Övür noted that while the opposition alliance aims to present itself as a pioneer of democracy, their claim is not being fulfilled as they fail to agree on common principles.
Election alliances were formed following the 2017 constitutional referendum, which replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential one; however, no concrete law on election alliances has been legislated, although some revisions were made to the existing law back in 2018. The unprecedented nature and the lack of concrete guidelines and laws regarding such blocs also complicate things with regards to their transparency, goals and overall function.
“They lack a transparent, open and clear alliance process,” Övür said, adding that Turkish voters would seriously question the ability of a bloc of seemingly polar opposites being able to govern the country even though they had performed relatively well in the local elections. The bloc obtained 35.57% of the votes, winning 265 municipalities including 11 metropolitan municipalities like Istanbul and Ankara.
However, although the bloc managed to cooperate in the local elections, ideological divisions among members may pose a threat to its success in general elections as the CHP and IP have different voter bases almost on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
“Turkish voters are very well aware of the implications of such partnership,” Övür said, referring to the rocky era of coalition governments in the 1990s, which he said caused great suffering for the Turkish people.
Meanwhile, Bilgin also pointed out that the alliance fails to find common principles, and what they deem to be common principles are things that no longer have political validity, like their claims to return to the parliamentary system of government.
The alliance had promised to return to the parliamentary system if elected, but the ruling party dismissed such requests based on several reasons. AK Party Group Deputy Chairperson Numan Kurtulmuş claimed that the opposition bloc does not have a consensus in their demand, as he said they are unclear about whether they want an “improved parliamentary system” or a “reinforced parliamentary system.” He further said that the current distribution in the Parliament also makes it impossible for such a constitutional change proposal to be adopted, adding that there is no need for such discussions to confuse people and trigger unnecessary political debates.
Recently on Monday, IP announced that the party completed its work on a legislative reform proposal called the "Improved and Strengthened Parliamentary System," which seeks to establish an impartial role for the president. Akşener is expected to announce the final version of the proposal on May 26.
Turkish voters narrowly endorsed an executive presidency in the April 16, 2017 referendum with 51.4% of the votes. The official transition to the new system took place when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the oath as president in Parliament after the June 24, 2018, general elections, during which he won 52.6% of the votes.
The possibility of new parties joining both the Nation Alliance and the People’s Alliance is frequently discussed as new parties emerge in the political scene. Dissidents from both the ruling and main opposition parties have formed, or are in the process of forming their political parties. Former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan’s Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party (GP) have not yet joined an alliance. In the opposition CHP, former Şişli District Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül formed the Party for Change in Turkey (TDP) and former presidential candidate Muharrem Ince, who received more votes than Kılıçdaroğlu ever did, formed the Homeland Movement and is expected to announce the name of his party soon.
But Bilgin noted that the parties that splintered from the AK Party and aim to steal votes from the AK Party voters do not offer any hope, as all they have done so far is appear on opposition media outlets. For instance, according to a poll conducted in February, DEVA would get 1.8% of the votes, while GP would get 0.4%, both of which fall well below Turkey’s election threshold of 10%.
Meanwhile, it is still too early to assume how opposition splinter parties would position themselves, as it would not make sense for them to leave the CHP but join them in the alliance later on.
This is one of the reasons why both Övür and Bilgin said there is potential for forming a brand new third alliance.
“The third alliance has more to do with leaders, as parties struggle to find common principles,” Bilgin said, as he noted that he believes alliances will stay in the Turkish political scene for a while. He continued by noting that a third alliance would snap more votes from the Nation Alliance rather than the People’s Alliance.
The Nation Alliance has not announced a presidential candidate for the 2023 elections, but the ruling party-led bloc has been crystal clear about its candidate for the polls: Erdoğan.
“It is not easy for the opposition bloc to find a joint candidate as it consists of ideologically and politically diverging members,” Övür said. The second reason behind the ambiguity has to do with extensive prerogatives under the new presidential system.
“This system gives the candidate extensive authority: Nobody has the chance to gain 51.5% of the votes and consign the prerogative to rule the government to others,” Övür said.
He continued by noting that it looks quite difficult for the main opposition to put forward its own chairperson as the presidential candidate, as long as they do not have strong leadership skills.
Meanwhile, Bilgin noted that the real problem has to do with the lack of a candidate who can prove to have the potential for leadership in the face of the People’s Alliance’s candidate Erdoğan. He explained that the ruling party-led bloc seems unified on a single candidate, shares a common ideology and has been on the same page in past incidents like the July 15, 2016, coup attempt.
The second challenge the opposition bloc faces is to find a candidate who can appeal to and convince IP and HDP voters, which Bilgin said was “beyond the realm of possibility.”
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