Turkey’s political opposition is “sitting around and twiddling its thumbs”, even though the country is “rapidly declining as a functioning state”.
So contends Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) analyst Sinan Ciddi, who asks how that can be in a nation that “has gone from being an imperfect democracy to an autocratic wasteland” and is to hold parliamentary and presidential elections by June next year.
Ciddi, in an October 20 article for The National Interest, warns that a victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2023 “will solidify his hold on Turkey and will further institutionalize Turkey’s illiberal trajectory. It will result in the country becoming further cut off from democratic norms and its Western partners and aspirations. Erdogan knows and wants this; he has done very little to hide it”.
Given this scenario, says Ciddi, “Turkey’s political opposition has a public responsibility to challenge Erdogan and provide voters with an alternate vision”.
So with the elections rapidly approaching, why is it not doing so?
Erdogan can largely be blamed for Turkey’s “tragic decline”, but “he is not the sole facilitator”, says Ciddi, observing: “Turkey’s opposition, the so-called ‘Nation Alliance’—a coalition of six political parties—is greasing the rails for Erdogan, ensuring that Turkey’s autocratic turn is likely to become institutionalized.”
Though Erdogan, going for a third presidential term, has begun to “mobilize all resources available to him to ensure a seamless victory”, the opposition alliance “that was conceived to defeat Erdogan is basically playing a game of thrones,” argues Ciddi, adding: “Past polling data over the last twelve months infused a false sense of confidence into the six parties: owing to high levels of inflation (83 percent at present), historical declines in household incomes, and visible levels of government corruption, all the opposition would have to do was wait for the elections, and Turks would vote Erdogan out of power.
“Since the inception of this mirage, the alliance members have not only failed to declare a presidential candidate but also failed to enunciate a political and economic platform. We have no idea what they intend to do should they attain the office. Insider information suggests that each of the political leaders is interested in two things: which party gets to lead which agency and who will land the presidency. Absent from these calculations is the glaringly obvious: given that polls are shifting back in Erdogan’s favor, why should voters choose the opposition? For now, and as things continue, undecided voters will be tempted to vote for Erdogan, holding their noses for one simple reality: Erdogan is the devil they know.”
On October 16, Erdogan ratified a parliamentary bill decried by critics as a “censorship law” and presented by the government as a “disinformation law”. The state is now empowered to remove any content on social media or conventional media platforms, if the judicial authorities deem it to be against the public interest. Erdogan’s officials, says Ciddi, will likely “deploy an army of digital content observers to target dissidents across Turkey and perhaps beyond” with the new law likely to frighten individual citizens into self-censorship and prevent them from posting and/or re-posting any content critical or offensive to Erdogan.
During parliamentary deliberations, according to Ciddi, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) did next to nothing to prevent the law from being passed. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, was not even in parliament. “Instead,” notes Ciddi, he was in Washington meeting with students and intellectuals and seemingly touring the mid-Atlantic corridor.
“For Turkey’s beleaguered opposition leader,” protests Ciddi, “there could not have been a worse time to schedule a visit to the United States and just bumble around. The incompetence, cowardice, and lackluster strategy (if you can call it that) of the Nation Alliance is bewildering. At the very least, the CHP and other opposition parties could have brought attention to the implications and provisions of the draconian law, generally making life for the governing Justice and Development Party uncomfortable. Alas, this did not happen.”
Kilicdaroglu, CHP leader since 2010, is the political leader least likely to defeat Erdogan, yet the opposition alliance appears fixated on nominating him, says Ciddi, pointing out: “Kilicdaroglu has no victories against Erdogan. He is personable and kind, but that’s it. He is seventy-three years old, uncharismatic, and has little accolades that will convince voters that he can deliver an attractive, alternative future for Turkey.
“On the other hand, Ekrem Imamoglu, the young and energetic mayor of Istanbul is just about the most logical choice for president. Erdogan is scared of him, and for good reason. Imamoglu won the race for Istanbul not once, but twice (Erdogan annulled his victory at the 2019 municipal elections and forced a re-run, which he won by a larger margin).”
Imamoglu has decent polling numbers and is an excellent campaigner, says Ciddi, concluding: “Will the opposition nominate Imamoglu? Likely not. Why? Because Imamoglu is feared by alliance members. They worry that in the event that Imamoglu becomes president, he will overshadow them and make them politically irrelevant.”