Turkey’s six opposition party leaders held a critical meeting on February 12 announcing their collaboration against President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Presidential System, indicating a formation of an unprecedented opposition block.
In the 2019 local elections, many metropolitan municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, were taken from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) governance. That victory paved the way for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and İYİ (Good) Party, to form Nation Alliance in the general elections. The support of the Felicity Party, the Democrat Party and the Kurdish voters, whether they are voters of Kurdish issue-focused People’s Democracy Party (HDP) or not, was critical in defeating the People’s Alliance formed by the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). This process forms a broader opposition front in the election in a battle against Erdoğan and the regime that brought Turkey one-man rule.
Will they be successful? Even if they win the election and defeat Erdogan, can they reach at least 360 seats in the parliament to attempt to change the Constitution? Do possible conflicts between them cause ruptures? These are all legitimate questions. But in Turkey, where political animosity is high, it is important in itself that the six parties with different views come together for the same purpose.
The process that brought the six leaders together
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is the pioneer of the process that gathered six party leaders at one table. We can interpret this from İYİ Party Leader Meral Akşener’s message that she expressed her gratitude to the leaders by starting her sentence “especially Mr Kılıçdaroğlu.”
CHP’s traditional line was based on self-sufficiency. But with the Justice March in 2017 that was initiated after the arrest of main opposition deputy Enis Berberoğlu, the CHP has taken out of its comfort zone. The march of the CHP leader from Ankara to Istanbul with the slogan of “Right, Law, Justice” was completed with the participation of a wide range of political and social segments of the society.
This was followed by Kılıçdaroğlu’s manoeuvre to transfer 15 CHP deputies to the IYI Party as solidarity in case the newly established opposition party’s participation in the election was blocked by the MHP and therefore the AKP. With Kılıçdaroğlu’s move, Akşener and IYI Party, were able to form a group in the parliament and were able to enter the elections.
The third move was the establishment of the Nation Alliance with Akşener. That alliance ended Erdogan’s title of “invincibility” in the local elections, which he retained until then.
Today, it is such a process of change and transformation that makes Saadet leader Temel Karamollaoğlu say, “not every brave man can do what he does”, referring Kılıçdaroğlu.
The importance of the meeting in terms of content and format
While these were happening on the opposition front, AKP struggled with departures. The AKP founders Ahmet Davutoğlu, former Prime Minister and Ali Babacan, former economy chair, left the ruling party and founded their own parties, Future and DEVA, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
The cornerstone of the ruling vs opposition equation was the transition from a makeshift parliamentary regime to a makeshift presidential regime under the name of the Presidential Government System, with the referendum in 2017, with the support of Bahçeli to Erdoğan.
Let’s come to the February 12 meeting regarding content and format.
1- CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, İYİ leader Meral Akşener, Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu, DEVA leader Ali Babacan, Saadet leader Temel Karamollaoğlu and Democrat Party leader Gültekin Uysal, met for a dinner at a facility where usually host modest social activities, Çankaya Municipality’s Ahlatlıbel Park. It was an answer to the flamboyant venues that President Erdoğan chose for his meetings. The menu was also humble: pumpkin soup, stew and a quince dessert.
2- The leaders gathered around the round table in a format where no one was at the centre of attention. Kılıçdaroğlu formally kept his promise of “relationship between equals regardless of voting rates”. The chief of staff and press advisors accompanying the leaders did not enter the meeting.
February 28 symbolism
3- At the end of the meeting, which lasted five hours and 15 minutes, a written statement was published. In this text, the leaders announced that the main consensus statement would be made on February 28. February 28 is significant in two ways.
The first and immediately came to mind was the National Security Council (MGK) meeting on February 28, 1997. The soldiers put pressure on the Prime Minister of the time, Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the Political Islamist Welfare Party (RP), and he was forced to sign resolutions on the ground of fighting Political Islamism. The process resulted in Erbakan’s resignation, dismantling of the coalition government, and RP was banned from politics with a constitutional court decision to violate secular principles of the republic the following year. The Felicity Party of Karamollaoğlu, who was one of the six at the table, is the successor of the RP. And the RP’s prominent members such as Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül later became the ones that formed today’s ruling AKP by declaring their disengagement with the National Outlook (Milli Görüş) lineage. Akşener, on the other hand, had served as the Interior Minister on behalf of the centre-right DYP in the resigning coalition. The CHP of that day supported the February 28 decisions. Therefore, the date of February 28 strengthens Kılıçdaroğlu’s discourse of “making amends”, in other words, self-criticism.
The second significance of February 28 was that it is the date of the joint statement of the AKP government officials and Kurdish issue-focused People’s Democracy Party (HDP) delegation in Dolmabahçe under the helmet of the Prime Minister of the day, Ahmet Davutoğlu, in 2015, about the indirect dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Shortly after, the dialogue was interrupted, and bloody conflicts resumed.
The roadmap talks
4- It is understood that in the detailed statement to be announced on February 28, there will be traces of the transition from the current presidential regime to the Reinforced Parliamentary System regime. This means leaders have started to talk about a road map on the structure and the configuration of the government that will be formed in the event of election victory. After all, if the opposition bloc is to defeat Erdogan in the election, it will begin to rule the country under the current Constitution. Therefore, it is understood that everything to be done, from the recovery of the economy to the investigation of corruption allegations, will be handled with a coalition protocol. There is an indicator that the leader’s aim to fight against corruption will have its base in the civil society as Deep Poverty Network’s chair Hacer Foggo expressed her support to the fight with the motto “corruption is the cause of poverty”. The opposition coalition’s pre-announcement of what they will do if they come to power will also be an unprecedented experience in Turkey.
5- The six leaders promise to build a democratic Turkey where fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed; everyone sees themselves as an equal and free citizen; where they can freely express their thoughts and live as they believe. The Council of Europe and the European Union norms are taken as a basis.
Joint candidate and HDP issue
6- The meeting of the six leaders will perhaps result in expanding the Nation Alliance to six parties. HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar reacted to the exclusion of his party from meeting opposition leaders. He may be right in his own way. However, neither the HDP desires to enter this opposition bloc, nor this opposition bloc and HDP can walk together. There is already a separate alliance that HDP is trying to form with left-wing parties. The important thing here is the presence of dialogue. Kılıçdaroğlu said to Fikret Bila after the meeting, “We do not ignore the HDP. We cannot ignore any party.”
7- After nominating a presidential candidate who can receive votes from Kurdish voters, the more parties that can enter the parliament, the higher the representation rate.
8- The leaders did not discuss the joint candidate issue as we anticipated as they left it as the last issue to discuss. First, they want to agree on principles and a roadmap. This delay has both risks and advantages.
The danger awaiting opposition leaders
9- Another risk waiting for the opposition bloc in the agreement and roadmap for the transition to the Strengthened Parliamentary System regime is the leakage of information that the president will be elected by the parliament in the new system and serve with symbolic importance and zero authority.
First, there should be powers that the president can use in exceptional situations. For example, if the president had the authority to dissolve the parliament with a particular advisory mechanism and lead the country to elections quickly in crises, perhaps it would be possible to avoid the coups of March 12, 1971, and September 12, 1980.
Secondly, it would be a severe mistake to cancel the people’s right to elect a president, which they obtained through a referendum. There are examples of presidents who are both elected by the people and have the authority to exercise power in a symbolic way or exceptional situations. This situation can also be used as a counterargument by Erdogan, who says, “They are taking back the voting rights we gave you”.
All in all, the February 12, 2022 meeting became an important example showing that the opposition in Turkey can come together to stand up for pluralist democracy and the rule of law, regardless of the outcome.