The Good Party Chairperson Meral Akşener paid her respects by laying a wreath at the mausoleum and observed a moment of silence with a soldier's salute during her Anıtkabir visit, Ankara, Türkiye, March 8, 2023. (AA Photo)

Akşener’s HDP dilemma: Both options lead to dead ends

Retracting from her comments due to the CHP’s attacks and isolating herself within the opposition bloc, IP Chair Akşener is likely to face pressure from secularists over the HDP’s involvement

Meral Akşener, the Good Party (IP) chair, has returned to the “table for six,” signing off on the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s endorsement as the Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate. Yet, she remains in a worse position than all other leaders seated around the “table,” which sits on multiple political and ideological fault lines.

Essentially, Akşener attempted to ease the pressure rooted in her being stuck between nationalist-conservative voters and secularist voters by leaving the opposition bloc. In the end, however, she was accused of treason and, in her own words, was “stoned like the devil.” Consequently, Akşener had to make peace with her second option in a lose-lose situation. In other words, she had to opt for a poor option as opposed to another poor option. Yet, the IP and its leader cannot relax just yet, as Kılıçdaroğlu will reach out to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to ask for their endorsement.

Having published an 11-point position paper in September 2021, the HDP leadership demands “open negotiations and agreements” regarding its radical demands in the name of “democracy.” In the words of HDP’s imprisoned former leader Selahattin Demirtaş, Kılıçdaroğlu must shake hands with HDP for “great changes and a democratic transformation” to take place in the republic’s second century. According to Akşener, the main opposition leader’s potential visit to the HDP headquarters is the CHP’s own business. She insists that the Nation Alliance will not deal with HDP or its demands. Nor can the next administration offer Cabinet seats to that party.

Yet Mithat Sancar, one of the HDP’s co-chairs, recently stated that Kılıçdaroğlu would be visiting their party in the name of the alliance that endorsed his candidacy. It seems that he wants to drive a hard bargain.

Indeed, Akşener’s remarks were somewhat incoherent. After all, there is no way that HDP would accept being excluded from the opposition bloc for “being an extension of (the terrorist organization) PKK” whilst endorsing the opposition candidate as it did in the 2019 municipal elections. In this sense, Kılıçdaroğlu will meet others in the name of whoever endorsed him.

Table for six+two

At the end of the day, Kılıçdaroğlu will not negotiate terms with HDP to include HDP members in his own party’s list of candidates. Quite the contrary, he will knock on HDP’s door as the Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate to ask for their support.

Akşener put a bandaid on the bleeding wound of sitting at the table for six by having the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara included in the mix. Nowadays, she makes up excuses for HDP’s inclusion in their “grand coalition” – which is the main challenge.

The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, made it clear to the IP chairperson that they were loyal to the CHP. By choosing not to contest the presidential election and instead endorsing Kılıçdaroğlu, the HDP may prove to Akşener that it is a party of “the table for six+two.” Moreover, Akşener cannot possibly have a coherent answer to Demirtaş’s open letter: “Why is the politics of negotiation, which you consider your right, not a right that the HDP can exercise?”

What will HDP want?

The opposition bloc is yet to prepare its candidate lists for the parliamentary elections, yet that is not expected to cause any problems at the “table.” Perhaps party organizations and would-be candidates, who are excluded from those lists, may be disgruntled. Yet, the main question is what the HDP will demand endorsing Kılıçdaroğlu.

Retracting her comments because of the CHP’s attacks and isolating herself within the opposition bloc, Akşener is likely to face pressure from secularists over the HDP’s involvement. She and her party find themselves right on top of an ideological fault line. If they allow HDP to join the coalition, they must be ready for the exodus of nationalist-conservative voters.

And what does Akşener’s following statement mean exactly? “Everyone must be careful if taking a meeting regarding an issue, which did not cause a fight before, could fuel tensions now. The HDP has no seat at the table – as claimed many times already.”

Would the IP chairperson risk another metaphorical stoning over the HDP? I seriously doubt it.

The alternative is to make her peace with being treated like a pariah. Kılıçdaroğlu and his supporters are so enraged that Akşener will be compelled to violate her party’s ideological principles.

Perhaps she could account for her unwillingness to settle for one of the seven vice presidential slots in Kılıçdaroğlu’s potential Cabinet by saying that she does not have “political ambitions.” But there is absolutely no way that she can look nationalist-conservative voters in the eye and tell them she intends to rebuild Türkiye in line with the HDP’s demands.

[Daily Sabah, March 11 2023]

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