Yavuz Baydar
Oct 02 2019

Turkey’s Good Party opts out of opposition alliance - sources

Turkey’s opposition was energised by the harsh defeat they doled out to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the Istanbul mayoral rerun vote on June 23, but three months later it seems their hopes that this would spark real change have hit a wall.

The opposition Nation Alliance, made up of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and nationalist Good (İYİ) Party, has failed to rise to the challenge of presenting a convincing alternative to govern the country. 

Meanwhile, hopes are fading that new parties led by rebels from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – former president Abdullah Gül and ex-deputy prime minister Ali Babacan on one side, and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the other – can have a decisive impact.

The wave of grassroots opposition that sprang up this year should be taken with a grain of salt, as it only denotes a protest against current politics. To turn into something meaningful, the opposition must find its direction and create a real alternative to pressure Erdoğan’s coalition.

That has not happened.

If the opposition's voter bases remain unable to keep a tight rein on their respective parties – the Nation Alliance and the Gül-Babacan camp – and if they fall into a sort of “let's wait and see” fatalism, the ensuing disappointment may cast Turkey further into the margins of instability. 

Reliable sources have told me that in ongoing closed-door negotiations between AKP officials and the Good Party’s Koray Aydın and Ümit Özdağ, finance heavyweights of the party, an agreement has been reached to join the ruling coalition with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in January. Party leader Meral Akşener is not strong enough to stop this slide and keep the party within the Nation Alliance.

Putting aside Good Party’s future with the AKP’s “native and national” coalition, let us look at the CHP.

A critical eye can see that Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is much more reckless than Ankara’s opposition mayor Mansur Yavaş, with no qualms about getting involved in any and all issues. 

More importantly, he appears unaware of the skillful siege laid around him by Erdoğan’s government, which is all the while claiming to favour compromise and dialogue.

Is İmamoğlu aware that government circles deliberately targeted him during the flood in Istanbul, and that he will be the sole scapegoat in case of an earthquake, or of his increasing fragility against the pro-government media? Unknown.

Put that aside as well. The CHP faces a bigger and more important issue: chaos in its direction and strategy.

The party’s recent international conference on Syria has brought back to the surface a wavering in the party about fundamental issues, conflicting language, and the statist reflexes that prevent it from forming an alternative wave of opposition.

At the conference, CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said his party believed “in the legitimacy of Turkey’s fight against terrorism on Syrian soil to ensure its own security”. The message seemingly agreed with Erdoğan on Turkish military activity within the borders of another country. As such, it signalled that the CHP would not object to any bombings or incursions in Syria, where Turkey has been threatening to launch a new military operation against U.S.-allied, Kurdish-led militia.

It was not clear whether Kılıçdaroğlu meant ISIS or the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main constituent of U.S. ally the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). If he meant the latter, he should have given an account of precisely which terrorist action the YPG has taken against Turkey to date, for gravity.

The lack of credibility of the conference was demonstrated by two points. First, the CHP did not invite a significant part of the Syrian opposition to it, including the Turkish-backed interim government. Second, it was opened not by the party’s authority on foreign policy, retired ambassador Ünal Çeviköz, but by deputy chair Veli Ağbaba, an official with relatively little experience in the area. These points raise serious questions about the CHP’s direction regarding Syria.

The final declaration produced at the conference merely used more refined language to express the same as the AKP’s bankrupt policies on Syria and the Kurds, including denialism on the Kurdish issue. It is that simple.

The statist, elitist and denialist vein within the CHP has won, apparently. Like the support the CHP gave in days gone by to dialogue with a dictator like Saddam Hussein to suppress the democratic demand by Kurds, this declaration in so many words declares Assad to be Turkey’s best partner against Kurds. 

This statement is strong enough to shatter whatever illusions members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) base who voted for CHP candidates in the local elections had held on to about the main opposition party.

One wonders how much the top CHP cadres care about the abysmal effect this will have on forming an alternative to the AKP-led coalition’s despotism.

This much is clear: With the Good Party striking a deal with the AKP, the Nation Alliance has come to an end, and the CHP has accelerated its turn towards the state, as we have seen many times before on Turkey’s political scene.

How quickly that statist turn takes place will give a clear message on the party’s approach to the state’s strategy of disabling the Kurdish political movement and banning the HDP if necessary.

As the thrill of the local election victories wanes, a poll that has not been made public shows that the public enthusiasm evoked by the announcement of Gül and Babacan’s movement has died down. 

One source says the reason their support has declined by half is that the two important figures have acted timidly, moving gradually to form their new party over a long period. They are also aware of this, I hear. This means crucial momentum for the country is slipping away, and may explain why Erdoğan is unusually relaxed.

So, things are not fine. The Good Party is investing in a partnership with the government, while the CHP has chosen a timid, “wait-and-see until 2023” policy of avoiding a snap election and staying clear of the HDP. And Gül and Babacan are busy squandering valuable time.

The Good Party is not a reliable player, but the base question remains: Could the Gül-Babacan movement, with the CHP and the HDP, be part of a strategy to somehow take Turkey out of its slump?

Unknown.

The answer relies to an extent on voters’ attitude toward the top levels of the three parties. If the top figures do not speak up, the wave from the bottom will remain an undercurrent and dissipate.

So, one wonders, how long will voters continue to uphold the famous slogan İmamoğlu used to rally support in the local elections this year, “everything’s gonna be alright?”

 

© Ahval English


The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.