The UAE foreign minister met with the Syrian president in Damascus
ISTANBUL: The timing seems perfect as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggles to fend off crippling inflation and declining popularity. But for Turkey’s opposition, the race for next June’s presidential election is more fraught than ever.
“The opposition seems very disorganized. What is their program?”, asked the Western diplomat, who did not want to be named, about the name given to the alliance of six opposition parties determined to obstruct the head of state.
Kemal Kirischi, an employee of the American Brookings Institute think tank, is surprised that such an opposition seems “abstract and distant from voters, especially in a country where the media is strictly controlled by the government and does not allow for open debate.”
In power as prime minister and then president since 2003, Erdogan’s success so far has rested on his ability to rally enough voters — whether they claim to be secular or religious, Turkish or Kurdish, nationalist or liberal.
A booming economy during his first decade in charge helped.
But anger over the crackdown after a failed coup in 2016 and the economic crisis that followed broke his momentum.
In 2019, the opposition joined forces and seized the city halls of Ankara and Istanbul, putting an end to the myth of the invincibility of the presidential party AKP.
Is a new victory possible in the spring? The difficult fate of one of Erdogan’s most publicized opponents, the popular mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, shows the great obstacles the opposition faces.
In mid-December, a court sentenced him to more than two-and-a-half years in prison and a ban from politics for calling those who invalidated his election as Istanbul mayor in the spring of 2019 “idiots” in response to such an insult. from the mouth of the interior minister.
The city councilor, who was finally invested in the summer of 2019 after a second vote, can stay in office for now as an appeal by his lawyers is put on hold.
But a separate investigation against the Istanbul municipality on the charge of “terrorism” is weighing heavily on him.
These two cases make Mr. Imamoglu’s candidacy extremely risky for the opposition despite the fact that he won the second round against President Erdogan.
They also “show how far Erdogan is willing to go to make sure he doesn’t lose,” judge analyst Aaron Stein said.
Moreover, the legal proceedings against Mr. Imamoglu, a member of the main opposition party, the CHP, have exacerbated the rivalries that split the “Table of Six”.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was in Berlin on the day of his trial for “insult” and tried to gather support for his candidacy.
Surprised, the latter – struggling to unite the opposition behind him – had to cut short his stay to come and support the mayor of Istanbul.
Meanwhile, Meral Akşener, the leader of the nationalist “Iyi” party and another major figure of the “Table of Six”, showed himself widely next to Mr. Imamoglu in an impromptu support rally, raising his hand to the mayor’s victory sign.
Berk Esen, a lecturer at Istanbul Sabancı University, says that this sequence “gave energy to the opposition for a short time”.
But in a short time he judges.
Meral Akşener’s open support for the mayor of Istanbul angered Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who arranged a one-on-one meeting with him two weeks later to resolve differences.
“The opposition lost valuable time by delaying the announcement of its joint candidate,” says Berk Esen.
In particular, the votes, even in the majority, raise the possibility of an early election.
Kılıçdaroğlu said that the six parties will announce their general candidates after the election date is officially determined.
CHP’s Istanbul MP Enis Berberoglu fears that this will give enough time to the opposition to deliver their message.
“Unfortunately, only a fraction of what we say reaches the public,” he said, referring to the government’s stranglehold on the media.
“We can go through a few TV channels, but that’s it.”