Turkish opposition parties are presenting a united front aimed at replacing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and even forcing early elections in the coming year to challenge his 19-year rule.
The leaders of six opposition parties appear to have agreed on turning the next election into a kind of referendum on the presidential system that Mr Erdogan introduced four years ago and considers one of his proudest achievements.
His opponents say that presidential system has allowed Mr Erdogan to concentrate nearly authoritarian power – fueling corruption and allowing him to rule by decree, dictate monetary policy, control the courts and jail tens of thousands of political opponents.The opposition hopes to focus on Turkey’s weakening democracy.
The forming of a broad opposition alliance is a strategy being used in countries where leaders with authoritarian tendencies – whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia or Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary – have enhanced their powers by exploiting fissures among their opponents. The approach worked in elections in the Czech Republic, where center-right parties came together to defeat Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
Now it may be Turkey’s turn.
“Today, Turkey is facing a systemic problem. Not just one person can solve it,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, Mr Erdogan’s former prime minister and a member of the opposition alliance. “The more important question is: How do you solve this systemic earthquake, and how do you re-establish democratic principles based on human rights?”
Mr Erdogan has been sliding in the polls, battered by an economic crisis, persistent allegations of corruption and entitlement and a youthful population chafing for change.
Among those lining up to do battle for the elections, set for June 2023, are Mr Davutoglu and a former finance minister, Ali Babacan, both former members of Mr Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, who have set up new parties.
Mr Davutoglu hopes to reduce the president’s loyal support base and help bring down his onetime friend and ally.
Alongside them, the strongest players in the six-party alliance are the center-left Republican People’s Party and the nationalist Good Party, headed by Turkey’s leading female politician, Meral Aksener.
The largest pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic People’s Party, or HDP – whose charismatic former leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is in prison – is not part of the alliance. Neither are smaller left-wing parties.
But all of the parties offer an alternative to Mr Erdogan.
The opposition hopes to replicate its success in local elections in 2019, when it wrested the biggest cities, including Istanbul, from the ruling AKP
“It is a good start for the opposition,” Mr Demirtas said from prison.
[This article first appeared in The New York Times.]