Heads of the six opposition parties making up the "table for six" applaud as they participate in a meeting to present their program, in Ankara, Türkiye, Jan. 30, 2023. (AFP Photo)

Four codes of the Turkish opposition’s manifesto

The joint statement of the 'table for six' suggests that an extremely aggressive campaign is in the making

The “table for six” identified as the Nation Alliance at its 11th meeting. The joint communique also revealed that the opposition bloc will use the following campaign slogan: “Enough! The people have the floor.” Moreover, the six opposition leaders made clear their intention to stick to the legal argument that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cannot run for president unless Parliament calls for the next election.

Signaling that they will endorse a joint presidential candidate in light of popular preferences and consultations among themselves, the opposition leaders delayed the announcement of their proposed system of government (specifically, how they intend to govern during the transition) until their presidential candidate’s unveiling.

The tone of the opposition bloc’s written statement suggests that the People’s Alliance and the Nation Alliance will use fiercely competitive rhetoric and engage in many wars of words on the campaign trail.

It would seem that the Nation Alliance will be more likely to run a properly organized and hard-hitting campaign if all the parties were to endorse a single presidential candidate. Of course, the opposition parties will make bold statements if multiple candidates contest the presidential election, too. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) crafted an accusatory language over many years and the right-wing parties will have to adopt that language if they endorse a joint candidate. For now, the Good Party (IP) distinguishes itself with its campaign slogan “Down with tyranny – long live liberty,” as the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and the Future Party (GP) reproduce that language with a hint of personal anecdotes.

In the international arena, there is an audience receptive to the opposition’s aggressive campaign, too. Western media outlets have already doubled down on their anti-Erdoğan campaign. Meanwhile, Washington suggests that the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye depends on that country’s approval of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership – which is not a good sign for Türkiye’s relations with the West.

4 reasons

There are four reasons why the opposition bloc’s joint statement suggests that an extremely aggressive campaign is in the making:

  1. The statement securitizes the system-of-government debate by claiming that “the presidential system has become an existential problem” for Türkiye.
  2. Likewise, it portrays the May 14 election as a “make or break” contest.
  3. Unlike the opposition’s past statements, the statement rejects President Erdoğan’s candidacy to incorporate it into the accusation of “one-man rule.” Together with CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s earlier remarks (“I do not trust the Supreme Election Council”), the opposition’s approach goes beyond engaging in a political or technical discussion over a constitutional matter. By making accusations against all Turkish institutions, including the Supreme Election Council (YSK), the opposition fuels the perception that the country will hold elections in a state of “insecurity.” In this sense, it exploits the discourse of “survival.”
  4. In their joint statement, the opposition parties attempt to justify their opposition to constitutional reform by accusing the People’s Alliance of “insincerely using women’s right to wear the headscarf for political exploitation and interests.” The right-wing parties, too, endorsed that message – which suggests that they could start a debate around religion (and who hurts it) within the context of conservatives’ gains.

Objection to Erdoğan’s reelection

Undoubtedly, the “table” argues that President Erdoğan cannot seek reelection under pressure from the opposition circles. Some believe that there is a way to ask whether Erdoğan would be violating the Constitution without making him look like the victim.

In reality, there is no way that the opposition could persuade voters that Erdoğan is ineligible to run just 105 days before the election. The ruling party would respond to such an attempt by suggesting that the opposition was looking for an excuse to justify their loss. Moreover, making the case that Erdoğan cannot run again (with the election around the corner) would only give him more room for rhetorical maneuvering to highlight the symbolic significance of May 14.

Does the discourse of “survival” serve the interests of the ruling party or the opposition? With the Western media targeting Türkiye’s achievements, would Turkish voters be more receptive to the opposition’s “survival” discourse or the ruling party’s self-confidence, embodied by the vision of “Türkiye’s Century” that alleviates concerns over global and nationwide chaos? From where I stand, the latter is the case.

[Daily Sabah, January 31 2023]

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