The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Chair and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (C), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chairs Pervin Buldan (L) and Mithat Sancar (R) hold a press conference after a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, March 20, 2023. (AFP Photo)

Ince and HDP: Factors to consider in first round of Turkish elections

With nearly 50 days left until the Turkish elections, the People’s Alliance and the Nation Alliance are doing everything possible to win the Presidency in the first round.

With nearly 50 days left until the Turkish elections, the People’s Alliance and the Nation Alliance are doing everything possible to win the Presidency in the first round.

Yet the number of presidential candidates keeps increasing. In addition to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, four politicians – Homeland Party (MP) Chair Muharrem Ince, the Patriotic Party head Doğu Perinçek, Sinan Oğan, candidate for a smaller alliance of opposition parties portraying themselves as “nationalists” and New Welfare Party (YRP) Chair Fatih Erbakan – intend to contest the election.

The New Welfare Party may have attracted some conservative voters by joining the People’s Alliance. Of the six presidential candidates, Ince – who was not asked to join the opposition bloc known as the “table for six” and recently positioned himself as the “third-way” candidate – could make a difference in the first round. Specifically, he attracts voters who are unhappy with Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidential bid. Yet Ince faces mounting pressure.

Just as Good Party Chairperson (IP) Meral Akşener was “stoned” for leaving the “table,” some groups have been urging Ince to endorse Kılıçdaroğlu. The MP chair, however, has been highlighting the opposition’s shortcomings and calling for the endorsement of multiple presidential candidates for three years.

Ince’s ‘table’ criticisms

Ince has been reminding voters of his presidential campaign and how his former party, the CHP, failed him in the 2018 election. He also criticizes the table’s brand of opposition, stressing that the bloc does not rest on the “voluntary partnership of independent players.”

The MP chair also made strongly worded statements, arguing that it was wrong for the “table” to offer eight cabinet posts to four fringe parties, whose total vote share remains less than 1.5%. He also said that the IP was forced to rejoin the opposition bloc and accused Kılıçdaroğlu of “hijacking” the bloc’s endorsement “as a result of bribery, blackmail, lynchings and smear campaigns.”

Finally, Ince claims that many CHP voters are concerned about the “poor track record” of the chairpersons of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the Future Party (GP), and the Felicity Party (SP).

For the record, Ince’s remarks do not necessarily confuse the opposition’s supporters. Quite the contrary, they indicate that the agreement among party leaders does not reflect the grassroots. Unlike DEVA Chair Ali Babacan, GP Chair Ahmet Davutoğlu and SP Chair Temel Karamollaoğlu, who opted to ride the CHP’s coattails, Ince has been critical of the government (mostly) and the Nation Alliance. That is why he has gained popularity in recent days.

It is also likely that Ince’s presidential bid is aimed at attracting voters to his MP. However, whether he will bow to the great rage and pressure from the CHP circles remains to be seen.

HDP factor

Whether the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will decide not to contest the presidential election in light of ongoing talks with Kılıçdaroğlu, too, will have an impact on the first round. Most people expect that movement to reach an agreement with the CHP within the framework of its September 2021 position paper and, by extension, not contest the election.

In return, the HDP leadership expects the central government to stop replacing elected mayors with independent trustees, make it harder to outlaw political parties, secure the release of Selahattin Demirtaş and individuals dismissed from public service with decrees, transfer more power to local governments, and start a discussion on the Kurdish question at Parliament.

The general public will probably never find out what the HDP demanded from the opposition bloc regarding the ongoing fight against the PKK, its Syrian offshoot YPG terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the fate of PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan, and critical issues like the recognition of Kurdish as a native language.

Discussing such matters publicly would turn many voters against Kılıçdaroğlu. It is important to remember, however, that making promises behind closed doors could lead to them being broken over the objections of coalition partners. The likelihood of pre-election promises being shattered after the race does not exclusively impact the HDP. Most recently, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş said in a televised interview that “party leaders should not serve as vice presidents,” signaling disagreements within the “table for six.”

If Kılıçdaroğlu were to win, he would be in a position to force the five party leaders, the HDP’s co-chairs, and the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara to make decisions that could go against the agreed-upon terms.

It is no secret that the CHP chair can embrace the famous maxim in Turkish politics: “Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today.”

[Daily Sabah, March 22 2023]

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