Turkiye’s Opposition Is Gambling: 72 Critical Hours Decided the Name of Erdogan’s Rival

a year ago




With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruling out, in early March 2023, any postponement of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the eyes of many turned to the opposition coalition to announce its long-awaited consensual candidate for many months.

In the three days following Erdogan’s announcement that the elections will be held on May 14, 2023, the Turkish opposition alliance known as The Table of Six witnessed 72 pivotal hours, starting with division and accusations of treason. On March 6, it ended with an agreement to nominate the head of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, as a joint candidate, on terms that “are still making noise in the street.”

The Table of Six includes the parties of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) headed by Kilicdaroglu, the Good Party (IYI) headed by Miral Aksener, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) headed by Ali Babacan, the Future Party (GP) headed by Ahmet Davutoglu, the Felicity Party (SAADET) headed by Temel Karamollaoglu, and the Democrat Party (DP) headed by Gultekin Uysal.


Dramatic Scene

Making sure that elections will be held after about two months, the heads of The Table of Six parties met on March 2 to choose a common candidate who would be able to remove President Erdogan, taking advantage of the repercussions of the devastating earthquake that left thousands dead and injured.

According to Al-Estiklal’s monitoring, the meeting, which was held at the headquarters of the Felicity Party in the capital, Ankara, lasted for more than 5 hours but ended with a political earthquake that shook all parts of Turkiye after postponing the announcement of the prospective candidate until March 6.

At the time, the most prominent Turkish newspapers, such as Yeni Safak, Sabah, and Deccan Herald, reported unconfirmed news about the dissolution of The table of Six following the parties’ disagreement over the name of the joint candidate.

This was indeed confirmed, with the departure of Meral Aksener, the head of the Good Party, the second most powerful party on the table, from the meeting. She went directly to her party’s headquarters to hold a meeting with the decision-making cadres.

On the morning of the next day, March 3, Aksener went out at a press conference, announcing her party’s withdrawal from The Table of Six for refusing what she described as playing the role of a “notary” to ratify the decisions of others, in reference to Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.

Aksener said: “All opinion polls indicate that the mayors of Istanbul, Akram Imamoglu, and Ankara Mansur Yavas, would have surpassed Erdogan, but unfortunately, the members of The Table of Six chose their personal interests and agendas over the interest of 85 million Turkish citizens.”

She added: “The five parties said that their candidate is Kilicdaroglu, and we proposed the names of the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul. We do not sit around a gambling table or a notary’s table to certify the statements of others. The interest of the nation comes before the interest of individuals and parties.”

In a statement that caused great anger, Aksener called on both Yavas and Imamoglu to assume responsibility and run for the presidency to represent the will of the people, which many considered an explicit step towards dividing the Republican People’s Party to which the two belong, in addition to Kilicdaroglu.

After this statement, mutual accusations poured out from the members of the Good Party and its nationalist and right-wing cadres against Kilicdaroglu and his insistence on entering a battle against a strong and experienced competitor like Erdogan, which he will be unable to resolve.

Meanwhile, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) cadres, closest to the left, accused the Good Party and its president of being representatives of what they considered to be the “deep state and business affairs,” to which Kilicdaroglu claims to be hostile.

As for Erdogan, he said in his first comment on what happened that “the opposition coalition works for its own interests, while we continue to implement our road map, and we are busy saving lives.”

He added, in a brief statement to reporters while he was in his car: “We said it months ago [they will sit, talk, and then disperse] as the famous Iranian proverb says, and this is what really happened.”

Concerning the possibility of including the Good Party in the People’s Alliance, Erdogan said: “We have no intention of collecting the falling stones.”

In this context, the left-wing Turkish opposition resident abroad, Can Dundar, confirmed that what happened was “a great victory for Erdogan.”

To explain more, he said in a YouTube interview with left-wing journalist Altan Sancar: “In a match they were about to win, especially after the earthquake, Aksener’s team was going to kick a penalty into an empty goal, but instead, it took the ball and started dribbling to put it in its goal.”


Unexpected Shift

Hashtags with the name of Aksener and Kilicdaroglu topped social media platforms in Turkiye over the next three days, between supporters and opponents of each other’s position, but everyone agreed that the opposition’s chances of defeating Erdogan had become very weak.

Therefore, there was news about new alliances, especially with Kilicdaroglu’s comment on the harsh statements of his former ally, Aksener, by saying that he was determined to extend the table, referring to the inclusion of the Kurdish, labor, and left-wing parties.

The three of them had reservations about Aksener joining The Table of Six due to the nationalist tendencies of her party’s cadres and supporters.

Aksener, in turn, did not remain silent after rejecting her invitation to Yavas and Imamoglu to take responsibility and run, as they chose not to divide their party and stand with their president Kilicdaroglu, while leaving the door opened for Aksener’s return to the discussion table.

This came in two tweets they published simultaneously, having the same meaning, which is the emphasis on the need to preserve the unity of The Table of Six.

On the morning of March 6, the day Kilicdaroglu was announced as a joint candidate for the presidency of the republic by The Table of Six, the Turkish media published that Aksener pre-empted the announcement by meeting with the decision-makers of her party.

The meeting came following Imamoglu and Yavas's certainty that the chances of both Kilicdaroglu and Aksener had been hit by painful blows due to their recent decisions, and they had no hope of success except for unity once again.

This mediation resulted in a clear change in the position of Aksener and her party; she expressed the possibility of returning to The Table of Six and agreeing to nominate Kilicdaroglu as President of the Republic if he agreed to appoint Yavas and Imamoglu as his deputies with broad powers.

In response, Kilicdaroglu postponed announcing his candidacy for several hours to consult with the rest of the party leaders, who, in turn, did not object to the proposal.

Aksener surprised the media and arrived at the headquarters of The Table of Six meeting of the Felicity Party and participated in the ceremony announcing Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy for the presidency.

However, there was an uproar caused by the candidacy statement, which came under the title A Roadmap for the Transition to the Enhanced Parliamentary System, after discussions that lasted 4 hours and consisted of 12 articles.

In the most prominent of these articles, it was stated that “Turkiye will be governed through consultation and consensus, and it was agreed to move to the strengthened parliamentary system, and during this process, the heads of the other five parties will be deputies to the president of the republic.”

In addition, “the ministries will be distributed among the parties of The Table of Six according to the number of votes they will receive in the parliamentary elections, provided that each party obtains one ministry as a minimum in the government.”

Likewise, “sensitive decisions, such as calling elections, declaring a state of emergency and national security policies, will only be taken after consulting The Table of Six.”

Finally, “appointing the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara as vice-presidents of the republic.”

At a time when some opposition figures expressed their joy at the return of the opposition table, others were concerned about the fragmentation of the decision-making stage between a president and 7 deputies if the opposition wins.

This will bring Turkiye back to the stage of coalition governments and their conflicts in the eighties and nineties, and the chaos they brought to the country, which Ankara finally managed to overcome during the era of Erdogan’s governments like reviving the country’s historical and geostrategic weight in front of major powers such as America and Russia.

These elections are considered in Turkiye as “exceptional” for a series of considerations, the most important of which is that they come in the midst of a major international conflict between the East, represented by Russia and China, seeking to create a new world order, and the West, represented by America, which insists on dominating the world under the pretext of protecting democracy.

Erdogan’s government seeks, especially in recent years, to be neutral and play the role of mediator between them. His position did not suit the West leaders who wanted Erdogan to be completely affiliated with them, according to Turkish experts and politicians, including Perincek.

The elections also coincide with the beginning of the centenary of the second Turkish Republic, and few experts expect that the presidential elections will be decided in the first round, while others said there would be two rounds, with several names expected to run for the position of president.