On September 25, 2022, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s largest opposition party, was endorsed in the upcoming Turkish presidential elections, set for June 2023, by three of his potential rivals: Mansur Yavaş, the mayor of Ankara; Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul; and Meral Akşener, the leader of the opposition Good Party.
Nevertheless, there are obstacles preventing Kılıçdaroğlu from becoming a unity candidate for Turkey’s opposition parties. For example, Ali Babacan, the leader of the Democracy and Progress Party and former Minister of Economy, has not declared his support, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, the leader of the Future Party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, has announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections. Furthermore, opposition parties continue to differ over certain executive policies, and their position on the opposition Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party is ambiguous. These obstacles cast doubt on the likelihood that Turkey’s opposition parties will agree on a unity candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.
The Nation Alliance is the Turkish opposition’s main representative and includes the People’s Republican Party, Good Party, Felicity Party, Dawa Party, Future Party, and Democracy and Progress Party. These parties met for the first time in February 2022 and announced their intention to run a single, consensus candidate to represent them in the upcoming presidential election. While current Turkish president and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced his candidacy on June 9, 2022, the opposition parties have yet to announce their unity candidate for the upcoming presidential elections for the following reasons:
1. Debate over the opposition’s unity candidate: The Turkish opposition alliance consists of six parties, only two of which have endorsed Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy in the coming elections—the Republican People’s Party and the Good Party. Meanwhile, the Democracy and Progress Party and the Felicity Party prefer a candidate, like them, with an Islamic background, and they have nominated former President Abdullah Gül as the opposition’s presidential candidate because he is popular with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s voting blocs and can easily compete with Erdoğan.
For his part, as a condition for running, Gül has stipulated that all opposition parties endorse his candidacy. Furthermore, the leader of the Future Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has declared his intention to run in the presidential elections. Consequently, the Turkish opposition is not yet presenting and promoting to the voters a unity candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, as is Erdoğan, who has already started preparing for the upcoming elections.
2. Exclusion of the Kurds from the opposition: The Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party is the main representative of Turkey’s Kurdish parties and gets 10% of the vote, making it a critical bloc in any election. The party also has a significant impact on voting blocs in the southern provinces of Diyarbakır, Mardin, and Gaziantep. In September 2022, the party officially announced the formation of the left-wing Labor and Freedom Alliance to run in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The Peoples’ Democratic Party declined to join the opposition Nation Alliance due to differences between the two sides.
Last March, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, approached the Kurds to win their votes. In a rare visit dubbed the "reconciliation tour," he toured the Kurdish province of Diyarbakır and, if elected, promised to release People’s Party leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been imprisoned for five years on terrorism-related charges. The co-chair of the People’s Party, Medhat Sinjar, implicitly criticized the Turkish opposition parties for not adequately supporting the Kurdish cause, asserting that "the opposition parties cannot win without convincing society to change and proposing a persuasive, consistent program to democratically resolve the Kurdish issue."
A crisis also emerged between the Kurdish party and the opposition after statements attributed to Meral Akşener in early September, in which she confirmed that she will not sit at the table with the Peoples’ Democratic Party—meaning that she rejects an official alliance with the party. Although she retracted those statements, praised the Kurdish citizens of Turkey, and pledged to protect them, the Kurdish party is fully aware of the "electoral game," in which parties rush to attract the Kurdish vote without proposing an integrated vision for solving the Kurdish issue. Since 2016, the Turkish regime has been targeting and oppressing the Kurds, after Demirtaş was accused of being involved in the failed military coup at that time.
3. Lack of a unified campaign platform: While the opposition Nation Alliance agrees on the need to return to parliamentary rule, end the rule of President Erdoğan, and nominate a unity opposition candidate, it has not specified a unified opposition campaign platform, nor adopted a clear, convincing, and unified economic program, supported by the voters, to end the country’s economic crisis. Likewise, they have not agreed on executive mechanisms to achieve their goals or a joint political working group that enjoys the confidence of voters. This indicates that the opposition lacks a "clear and unified vision" for resolving Turkey’s immediate problems and relies instead on catch-all slogans without specifying working policies to achieve them, which will lead to a loss of voter confidence.
4. Ideological party differences: The ongoing disagreements among the opposition alliance may be explained by fundamental ideological differences. The Republican People’s Party adopts secular democratic socialist policies, while the Felicity, Future, and Democracy and Progress parties are based on conservative Islamist policies, and the Good Party is a moderate nationalist party. These ideological differences are reflected in party politics. For example, Babacan supports the Kurdish cause, but Akşener rejects it because she belongs to a nationalist party that refuses to grant the Kurds more rights or allow them to hold public positions in the country, and if she were to agree to that, she would lose her voting base.
Likewise, the Felicity Party praised President Erdoğan’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Women on the grounds of preserving family values, while the Republican People’s Party condemned the withdrawal. This situation repeats itself in all social issues, including economic and judicial issues. By contrast, the ruling People’s Alliance led by Erdoğan brings together Islamist and nationalist parties, but, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, it is cohesive and has no fundamental differences among its parties. Thus, we find it difficult for the opposition alliance to agree on a unified campaign platform for their candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.
A Nation Alliance leader stated that they would wait to announce their presidential candidate until just two months before the elections, in order to avoid the candidate being targeted by President Erdoğan through filing judicial charges or launching political media campaigns against him that will cause him to lose voter confidence. Given the alliance’s immediate situation, the Turkish opposition has several options for the upcoming presidential elections, the most important of which are as follows:
1. Choosing a presidential unity candidate: When leaders of the opposition Nation Alliance met on August 21, they pushed for a joint presidential unity candidate to face Erdoğan. After their meeting, they issued a statement that they are confident they will win and that their candidate will be a "president for all, not just those who voted for him," but they did not announce the candidate’s name. The most likely candidate is the leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who declared his confidence in victory and asked the deputies of his party to work together as the "ruling party." However, this will require him to reach an agreement with the leader of the Future Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has already announced his candidacy, to convince him not to run, as well as with the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in order to keep the voting blocs together.
However, Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy may lead to the defeat of the opposition because he lacks charisma and broad popularity, especially in the central and southern Turkish provinces, unlike Erdoğan, who commented on his rival’s candidacy, on September 23, 2022, saying: "Why should we be nervous? We are conscious of our business. Even now, the People’s Alliance continues its path resolutely. As for the Nation Alliance, they follow their path indecisively."
2. Forming a presidential team: The Nation Alliance could resort to forming a "presidential team" to run in the elections, as a consensus formula that satisfies all its parties. In this scenario, Kılıçdaroğlu would be nominated for president along with several running mates from opposition party leaders, such as Babacan on the economy, Davutoğlu on foreign affairs, and Akşener on internal affairs. This team will attract supporters from all the parties because they will see their party’s name as a candidate within a large team.
3. Running two opposition candidates in the elections: Two candidates from the Nation Alliance could be run as a "gamble" to ensure the victory of one or the other in the elections. Of course, the first one would be Kılıçdaroğlu, who would attract secular voters and those who oppose Erdoğan’s policies, while the second one could be the leader of the Future Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who could attract the Islamist and conservative voting blocs that support Erdoğan, especially since Davutoğlu has openly announced his intention to run.
4. Disintegrating the opposition alliance: There are nine months until the presidential elections, which leaves a long time for a dispute between the Nation Alliance opposition parties to creep in, especially when discussing the nomination of a unity candidate. Such a dispute would lead to the disintegration of the alliance, and some of its parties may join the ruling People’s Alliance, particularly the Islamist Felicity Party, whose positions align with the ruling Justice and Development Party.
In turn, the disintegration of the alliance would lead to several opposition candidates and nominations, like Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, former Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Babacan, and Davutoğlu, in addition to the candidate from the Kurdish alliance led by the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which has also not announced a nominee. This fragmentation will benefit President Erdoğan, given that he will remain the strongest unity leader for the ruling People’s Alliance and, under Turkish law, split voting blocs lead to a second round of presidential elections.
In summary, the upcoming Turkish presidential elections are the most important of the past two decades, considering the range of domestic and foreign variables. The opposition Nation Alliance must intensify its efforts to compete with President Erdoğan, who will spare no effort to win the election and crown his fifty years in politics by celebrating the centenary of the Turkish Republic as its president in 2023.