The Turkish Parliament is to resume legislative work after summer recess next week. The political outlook is as follows. Opposition leaders, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Akşener of the Good Party (İYİ) have started to ruin President Tayyip Erdoğan’s game plan for the next elections with their outbursts in the last few weeks. While the hard-line stance of the People’s Alliance partner, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, especially on the Kurdish issue, does not make Erdoğan’s job any easier. Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) recent “positional document” makes it further difficult for Kurdish voters to turn their faces to Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Standing as firm as possible, Bahçeli wants to increase his bargaining power against Erdoğan regarding the new election law and the new Constitution, but in the end, he might lose what he has in his hand now.
Moreover, Erdoğan’s domestic political strain comes when he seems to be losing his grip on the balance of using the US and Russia against each other. Likening a simple student protest over the university dormitories, to the wave of Gezi Protests in 2013 summer was like a Freudian slip for one of Erdoğan’s main concerns. Unless the opposition takes to the streets, Erdoğan is deprived of one of the most crucial trump cards in the game plan. It is possible to evaluate the HDP’s unusually conciliatory last position within this framework. This is one of the most relevant reasons why Erdoğan’s game plan for the elections scheduled for 2023 at the latest is already starting to shake.
Let us take a closer look.
The opposition game plan becomes clearer
When we look not only in terms of the order of Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener’s salvos but also in terms of their content, it is possible to see that the Nation Alliance of CHP and İYİ has become more coordinated as time goes by.
It was Kılıçdaroğlu who raised the curtain of the opposition game plan by saying that Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Mansur Yavaş should continue their offices for another term. The IYI administration supported this statement, which closed the presidential candidacy debate (not the possibility, but the debate) of İmamoğlu and Yavaş.
Thus, the rhetoric of the ruling bloc, “Our candidate is Erdogan, it is not clear what the opposition will do” has weakened.
Then, Akşener, whose popularity has been on the rise in the surveys, took the opposition game plan one step further by saying “I won’t be a candidate for the presidency.” Thus, she annulled the claim of the government circles that she could come up with as a candidate, leave Kılıçdaroğlu alone and ruin their alliance.
At that stage, Kılıçdaroğlu stated that “HDP can be the legitimate interlocutor to solve the Kurdish problem” and declared that he saw the solution ground under the roof of the Parliament, not in secretive talks. This output showed that Kılıçdaroğlu no longer refrained from talking about the Kurdish question because Erdogan and Bahçeli have been putting pressure on him by claiming that the HDP was the “hidden ally” of the CHP, to agitate the nationalist grassroots within the İYİ. The ruling bloc did not expect that the IYI Party administration also acknowledged the legitimacy of the HDP’s presence in the Parliament.
Akşener’s real demand, and HDP’s stance
At that stage, Akşener declared that she did not want to be a presidential candidate, because she wanted to be the prime minister when they beat Erdoğan. That invalidated the propaganda that Akşener was happy with the current Presidential Government System but pretending the opposite. But with that declaration, Akşener wanted to validate the shift to a “reinforced parliamentary system” after a transitional period and not to leave the party that she founded with difficulties if she and Kılıçdaroğlu won the election.
HDP’s position has been revealed under these circumstances. Contrary to certain remarks from within the HDP, there was surprisingly no mention of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, or the İmralı island prison where he is kept. Selahttin Demirtaş, HDP’s former co-chair (who is still in prison) strongly backed that position. The HDP was saying that they can assume the responsibility for a solution to be found in the Parliament.
Is this recent position of the HDP permanent? We have to wait and see. However, this statement, which should be seen as an effort to come of age, is likely to have an impact on the political balances towards the 2023 elections. The HDP’s statement that it is not inclined to join either of the alliances probably relieved Akşener the most.
Meanwhile, on the government front
While all these were happening on the opposition front, the election threshold debate arose between Erdoğan and Bahçeli. When Erdogan said, “We think to lower the (10 percent election threshold) to 7 percent, but if the MHP wants 5 percent, we can think about it” Bahçeli felt cornered and had to accept the 7 percent. By doing that, Erdoğan wanted to complicate Bahçeli’s decision if he ever wanted to leave the alliance. On the other hand, although Bahçeli supported Erdoğan in the presidential election, he indicated that MHP could act independently in the parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, news emerged that the AKP and MHP could not agree on all the articles regarding the new election law. The limits proposed by the AKP in a modified constituency system to maximize their votes were working against not only the opposition but also the MHP.
But the real problem arose with Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement that “HDP is the interlocutor, the solution is in the Parliament”. Bahceli’s statement, “There is no Kurdish problem, and there is no difference between the HDP and the PKK,” had to be backed by Erdogan, who returned to the country without having any easy days in the USA. Erdoğan said that the Kurdish problem did not exist, it was over because the AKP governments had solved it.
Erdoğan’s shortage of Kurdish voters
Those words led to a perception that Erdoğan considered the Kurdish problem as consisting only of the PKK. HDP’s stance was announced at that stage of the debate within the ruling bloc.
This position is not likely to ease the troubles that Erdoğan has been experiencing with Kurdish voters because of his alliance with the MHP since the 2019 local elections. If there is an AKP game plan which suggests that the Kurdish voters will flow to the AKP when and if the Constitutional Court rules to close the HDP (as the MHP wants) at the beginning of October, then there is a serious miscalculation in the Beştepe Presidential Complex.
In summary, Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener’s salvos, on the one hand, cost of living difficulties and unemployment problems that continue, despite Erdoğan’s rhetoric of bright horizons, on the other hand, Erdoğan’s game plan has been shaken lately in several ways.
Let’s see how Erdogan, who seems to risk breaking (at least defense) bridges with the United States, will return from his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for September 29. The impact of foreign policy on the economy and domestic politics should not be underestimated.