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Akşener's uphill battle and the 'process' passion of table for

Akşener's uphill battle and the 'process' passion of table for six

Ironically, the level of difficulty increases as the Turkish opposition bloc's 'processes' become clearer

The Good Party (IP) hosted the 11th "table for six" meeting on Thursday, where six opposition parties exchanged views on their roadmap, the government agenda and the selection of a joint presidential candidate. Hardly anyone expected the opposition bloc to announce its candidate. Instead, observers thought that the joint statement would relate to the various "processes." Moreover, there was an ongoing debate over statements by Cihan Paçacı, a deputy chairperson of the IP, and his subsequent resignation. Meanwhile, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu arrived at Thursday’s meeting with public endorsements from CHP-affiliated mayors. That is why Paçacı’s emphasis on “the popular objection to Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy” (which hinted at his Alevi background) was widely viewed as a response to the main opposition party’s imposition. It was not lost on anyone that the IP’s (now former) deputy chairperson warned that “the party councils are not prepared to approve (Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy)” and “the Good Party, too, may field its own candidate.” It remains to be seen whether Paçacı made that statement to strengthen Meral Akşener’s hand at the negotiating table, who hasn’t been able to gain the upper hand in negotiations thus far, or to merely reflect the opposition to Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy within the IP. Either way, Meral Akşener, who leads the second largest and most ambitious right-wing party within the opposition bloc, remains unable to escape the "lose-lose" situation (which I discussed in previous columns). To make matters worse, she is being gradually reduced to the least influential politician around the "table for six." The chairs of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and the Future Party (GP), who positioned themselves as the engineers of all processes, power-sharing agreements and written statements, are pretty close to secure their respective appointments as vice presidents with similar powers. By contrast, the table’s only alternative proposal was Akşener’s idea of appointing a single vice president with prime ministerial authority. Having failed to receive the CHP’s endorsement for the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul or contest the election herself, would Akşener dare to field multiple candidates? Would she prove willing to face "neighborhood pressure" from the opposition circles? It is no mere coincidence that Ümit Özdağ, a former IP executive, claimed (on the same day as the "table for six" meeting) that Akşener had told him: “We will elect (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan as president. Do not ask me why.” Is it possible that the IP chairperson, who has been chasing her dream of serving as prime minister under the "augmented" parliamentary system, will have to settle for a "somewhat augmented" vice presidency alongside the other opposition leaders? That is, of course, provided that the opposition’s candidate wins the presidency.

Akşener's struggle

The opposition’s current path gives the IP organization and base plenty of reasons to ask why they are part of the opposition bloc. Moreover, nationalist voters interpreted Akşener’s remarks in Diyarbakır (“If the question is to truly embrace the republic, to bid farewell to arms and to pledge to stop the bloodshed, then we are in”) as an attempt to cozy up to PKK and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Many could not but ask whether the IP, which reacted strongly against DEVA’s ambitious promises about a new "opening," had decided to walk down that same path. The Good Party organization and voters find it more difficult than others to cope with the developments around the "table for six." Akşener, in turn, has a harder time dealing with them than her counterparts. Ironically, the level of difficulty increases as the table’s "processes" become clearer. If Kılıçdaroğlu clinches the opposition bloc’s endorsement, Akşener will not be able to just step aside and claim to have done everything in her power. Likewise, the IP officials, who make frequent references to the “everyday attitudes of right-wing voters,” could not possibly claim that they have strong influence over power-sharing arrangements. By the way, I do not find the opposition bloc’s decision to attach importance to seating arrangements, roadmaps, power-sharing methods or the methodology of endorsing a joint candidate completely meaningless. Obviously, it takes skillful engineers to find a middle ground between political parties with different ideological backgrounds and their leaders with big egoes. However, the "table for six" spent so much time dealing with "processes" and let the public witness the tug-of-war over the candidacy so clearly that promoting the potential joint candidate has turned into an uphill battle. There is little time left to build that candidate’s profile as a source of hope, too. Let us see how well they will be able to communicate their policy agenda and discourse (which they developed "over time"). [Daily Sabah, January 31 2023]