The presidential candidate of the government block in the upcoming Turkish elections is the incumbent Tayyip Erdoğan. The opposition candidate is still unknown. It is not a burning issue for now but may become more worrying as the elections scheduled for June 2023 gets closer. The leaders of the Nation Alliance, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Akşener of the center-right Good Party (İYİ) have seemingly focused on the stance of the next president after Erdogan, as if they guaranteed to win the election, instead of finding an electable candidate.
However, their priority is to find a candidate who can beat Erdoğan at the ballot box and get elected. In a recent article, I asked the readers about their views on the qualifications of the next president?”, and also broadcasted a YouTube video on the same subject. Since the candidate of the People Alliance by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had already announced their candidate as Erdoğan, the comments were more on the possible opposition candidate.
The first group of comments was more or less predictable. The candidate should not be partisan, announce that they will return to parliamentary democracy from one-man rule, respect the rule of law, prevent corruption, etc.
The second group of comments were short and neat: the opposition candidate should be a name who can beat Erdoğan, an electable candidate.
Measuring the drapes
Akşener’s sine-qua-non condition is to find a name who is firm to ensure the transition to an improved parliamentary system (within a certain period) and who will not give up on this endeavor once they have the sweeping authority that the president has in the current system. The fact that she keeps saying, “I want to be a Prime Minister”, shows her ambition on that, since after the constitutional change, the Prime Minister’s office was abolished, and the president received the executive power. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, narrowed his criteria to “someone who know how the state works,” and “someone who is reconciliatory, establish a dialogue with all parties.”
But there is a hidden variable in this equation. The Kurdish voters, voting for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) or other parties. If the HDP nominates a candidate separately from Nation Alliance, it will be a gift to Erdoğan and AKP-MHP government on a silver plate. Therefore, it is essential for the People Alliance not to offend the Kurdish voters and not underestimate their influence. The efforts of the government to weaken the opposition became more evident in the latest discussions and criticisms on a relatively trivial and wrong deed of İYİ member Lüftü Türkkan who had insulted a citizen during a visit stirring a debate in Turkey’s political agenda.
The conservative Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu said in an exclusive interview to Nergis Demirkaya from Duvar, following his meeting with president Erdoğan is also important. He said, “Erdoğan is not comfortable with the rule of 50%+1”, meaning that he is not happy with his dependence on the MHP leader Devlet Behçeli, adding, “we are agreed to disagree” with Erdoğan. It was a 2,5-hour-meeting, which is more than enough time to discuss the election and parliamentary seat calculations.
What is an ‘electable candidate’?
The prominent characteristics of the electable candidate that come to mind immediately are being charismatic and establishing a comfortable relationship with the masses without looking down on them. Likewise, the candidate should be a person who will not be vengeful but also will not hesitate to bring the corruption claim files from the Erdoğan period to the court. Another point is there should be no files about the candidate prepared in the depts of the state that the government might publicize once the candidacy is announced.
But there is something else that is not less crucial than those.
The candidate should be a name that can have the full support of the organizations of the political parties in the alliance that support that candidacy. Opposition voters have no patience left for another Ekmelettin İhsanoğlu case. He was the joint candidate of CHP and MHP in the 2014 presidential elections and received only 38 percent of the votes, paving the way for Erdoğan to be elected president.
To give an example, in 2018-2019, when there was an atmosphere against CHP Istanbul Provincial Chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu within CHP administration, Ekrem İmamoğlu took a stance for her and said, “If she is not here, I also will not”. He got the full support of the organization. Even though it was just newly established, IYI Party was also there to support him.
No matter how charismatic the opposition candidate is, if the candidate fails to get the support of the alliance of parties, or even from their own party, the result can be a disappointment.
Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener may regret if they do not give priority to identifying an electable candidate first.