No doubt, the 2023 elections will be one of the most historic elections where the race will be heated and political tensions will peak.
While the People’s Alliance, composed of mainly the National Movement Party (MHP) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), remains united with a clearly expected candidate, the same cannot be said for the Nation Alliance, composed of the main opposition secularist, central-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the nationalist Good Party (IP), and what is now has come to be known as the table of six with the addition of four other minnow parties.
In fact, a storm has long been brewing for Türkiye’s opposition bloc and as the election date nears, the symptoms become more visible. Besides the stark ideological differences between the six opposition parties, the rivalry between the CHP and IP is also now becoming a factor that reflects the intra-bloc disunity that is been ignored. Moreover, the lack of consensus so far on who will be the candidate also has become a contentious debate not only between the table of six but also within the leading actor on the table, the CHP.
While supporters of the main opposition CHP Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu believe that he should be running against Erdoğan, others, including some fractions from CHP and IP have shown signs they would like to see Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as the candidate in the 2023 race.
A clear example of the rivalry and intra-bloc tensions was most recently revealed with the court ruling against Imamoglu, who has been named as one of the possible candidates by the opposition circles, in addition to other figures, including Kılıçdaroğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş. Imamoğlu was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison for insulting officials from Türkiye's Supreme Election Board (YSK), according to a court ruling announced on Wednesday. The court also imposed a political ban on the mayor, however, both rulings must be confirmed by an appeals court. It is important to highlight that, as expected, the majority of the public and the political circles from both the government’s side and the opposition have been voicing criticism of the court decision regarding the political ban.
The previously visible support of IP Chairperson Meral Akşener to Imamoğlu, and being in favor of Imamoğlu during the rally in Saraçhane, where she rushed to Istanbul from Ankara right after the court ruling against Imamoglu while Kılıçdaroğlu was in the German capital Berlin, made the voters see more than the tip of the iceberg in the tensions between Kılıçdaroğlu and Aksener on who the candidate of the table of six should be.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s discomfort with the Akşener-Imamoğlu partnership was visible during his press conference with journalists in Ankara on Monday.
Several sentences were signals of this discomfort. While he has not so far explicitly declared himself as the candidate, he has previously signaled his intention to run against Erdoğan, and on Monday, once again he said, “If the table for six say ‘it is you’ then I will be a candidate. The natural process would be for a candidate to emerge from the table for six.”
In addition, he also said that he found out about the Akşener-Imamoğlu rally in Istanbul’s Saraçhane following the declaration of the court ruling through social media, despite the fact that Imamoğlu is “a CHP mayor in Istanbul.”
According to reports, in response to a question regarding Akşener’s support for the candidacy of Imamoğlu and Yavaş, Kılıçdaroğlu also said, “One party should not interfere in another party’s internal affairs. All parties have their own rules.”
In response to Kılıçdaroğlu’s “internal affairs” remarks, the IP officials have reportedly responded, saying Akşener’s support to Imamoğlu – or Yavas – is not meddling with internal affairs of another party, Turkish media reports said.
Cited by Cumhuriyet daily IP officials said, “This is not the first time Akşener has made such a statement regarding the candidacy of Imamoğlu and Yavaş. She has used similar expressions before. Emphasizing a ‘winning candidate’ is not meddling in a party's internal affairs. Whoever will win the Presidency in 2023, whether it is İmamoğlu, Yavaş, or someone else, the name does not matter. It just means that the opposition should nominate this name as a joint candidate.”
The ‘winning candidate’ debate has also become a topic on the opposition’s agenda. Both Imamoğlu and Yavaş won municipalities that were run by AK Party mayors for over two decades. Yet, Kılıçdaroğlu has lost every election CHP participated in since becoming a party chairperson in May 2010.
“Of course, I don't see myself as an opponent on my own. But I am a player of the opposing team against Erdoğan,” Imamoğlu said during a televised interview on Monday. “The coach could use me in the game or not. I will not decide that. But I am a player who can get into the game,” he said, adding to the ‘winning candidate’ debate.
As of now, it is hard to imagine that Kılıçdaroğlu is willing to leave the party leadership or the intention to run against Erdoğan in the upcoming elections.
Nation’s Alliance is yet to declare an agreed candidate. The lack of consensus on a candidate, a clear program and a vision for the voters on what they would support makes it difficult for the opposition to draw a unified picture for the voters with some six months left to the ballot boxes. Coupled with the absence of clarity, the tensions between CHP and IP as well as the intra-CHP tensions over a candidate are expected to keep the opposition’s agenda busy for the coming days.
What is clear to the voters is that Erdoğan is still the leading contender in all the polls and the only clear candidate to run the race. Clarity, past experience of 20 years with many reforms to lists, social and technological advancement in many realms internally and strong leadership when it comes to protecting Turkiye’s national interests internationally will no doubt be on voters’ minds when they cast their ballot. What remains is the economic struggle government is facing due to the global economic recession. If the positive trend in internal economic recovery speeds up and the inflation is kept under control, the upcoming elections will again not be a tough race for Erdoğan to win the second term.