Facing Erdogan, hurdles the Turkish opposition

ISTANBUL: The timing seems right, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is struggling to shake off boring inflation and waning popularity. But for the Turkish opposition, the race for June’s presidential election is more than ever fraught with pitfalls.

“The opposition seems very disorganized. What is their program?” one Western diplomat asked on condition of anonymity about “Table Six”, the name given to an alliance of six opposition parties bent on blocking a head of state.

Kemal Kirisci, of the American think tank the Brookings Institution, was surprised to see such opposition “abstract and distant from the electorate, especially in a country where the media is heavily controlled by the government and does not allow open debate”.

The success of Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 as prime minister and then as president, has so far relied on his ability to rally enough voters – whether they claim to be secular or religious, Turkish or Kurdish, nationalist or liberal.

The economy, which had boomed in his first decade in charge, helped.

But anger over the repression following the failed coup in 2016, and the ensuing economic crisis, broke its momentum.

In 2019, the opposition, combined, took over the city halls of Ankara and Istanbul, ending the myth of the invincibility of the president’s party, the AKP.

Court battle

Are new victories possible in the spring? The plight of popular Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, one of Erdogan’s most publicized opponents, illustrates the considerable obstacles faced by the opposition.

In mid-December, a court sentenced him to more than two-and-a-half years in prison and ban from politics for labeling those who overturned his election as mayor of Istanbul in spring 2019 “idiots”, in response to such insults. he came from the mouth of the Minister of Home Affairs.

The city councilor, finally investing in the summer of 2019 after a second vote, has been able to temporarily retain his post, an appeal filed by his lawyer was suspended.

But a separate investigation into “terrorism” charges against the municipality of Istanbul also weighed on him.

These two cases make Imamoglu’s candidacy very risky for the opposition, even though opinion polls gave him a second-round winner against President Erdogan.

They also illustrate “how far Erdogan is willing to go to ensure that he doesn’t lose out”, judge analyst Aaron Stein.

In addition, the legal battle that was waged against Mr. Imamoglu – a member of the CHP, the main opposition party – has highlighted the rivalry that is tearing Table Six apart.

On the day of his trial for “contempt”, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the CHP, was in Berlin, where he was trying to rally support for his candidacy.

Taken by surprise, the latter – who is struggling to unite the opposition behind him – had to shorten his stay to come and support the mayor of Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Meral Aksener, leader of the Iyi nationalist party and another major figure of the Six Tables, has widely presented himself with Mr. Imamoglu during the improvised support rally, even going so far as to raise the mayor’s hand in a sign of victory.

“Wasting time”

This sequence “briefly aroused the opposition,” said Berk Esen, lecturer at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

But for a brief moment, he is judgmental.

Meral Aksener’s blatant support for the mayor of Istanbul angered Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who arranged a one-on-one meeting with him two weeks later to sort out their differences.

“The opposition has wasted valuable time by delaying the announcement of a joint candidate,” said Berk Esen.

Moreover, the voices, even though the majority, raise the possibility of early elections.

Kilicdaroglu said the six parties would announce their joint candidates once the official election date was set.

Enis Berberoglu, CHP MP for Istanbul, fears that this will give the opposition enough time to get their message across.

“Unfortunately, only a small part of what we say reaches the public,” he said, referring to the government’s grip on the media.

“We could go through some TV channels, but that’s about it.”

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