The opposition Good Party (IP) Chair Meral Akşener talks during an election rally in Kocaeli, Türkiye, June 19, 2018. (AP File Photo)

IP’s Akşener is in a tight corner at ‘table for six’

Gaining the least from being at the 'table for six,' IP Chairperson Akşener could face political failure due to the sacrifices required to compromise on both a joint presidential candidate and common policy issues

The Future Party (GP) hosted the 10th meeting of the “table for six” on Thursday. The transition process’ road map, the text of common policies, their response to the proposed constitutional amendment regarding the religious headscarf and the joint presidential candidate’s selection were on the agenda. Thursday’s meeting was the longest of the opposition bloc’s meetings to date.

The six opposition leaders unsurprisingly claimed to have had a productive meeting. After all, they will insist on showing the public that their bloc has not dissolved – despite failing to jointly endorse a presidential candidate. That’s because none of the political parties would be able to survive the backlash over the dissolution of the “table for six.” Moreover, the fringe parties have no choice but to contest parliamentary races in 41 provinces while asking the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the Good Party (IP) to make room for the fringe parties’ candidates in their own candidate lists. Highlighting the various texts they produce and citing evidence of cooperation in the parliamentary election, the opposition leaders will surely claim that the “table for six” has not been dissolved.

It goes without saying, however, that a partial collaboration among the opposition parties would be radically different from an alliance with “a joint presidential candidate and chairpersons endorsing a common agenda.” Even if they were to agree on the potential government’s agenda and the transition process, the opposition bloc’s inability to field a single presidential candidate would devalue those documents. Indeed, limiting their cooperation to the presidential election’s second round would amount to a de facto dissolution.

Akşener’s deadlock

If Meral Akşener, the IP’s chairperson, intends to push back against CHP Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who imposes himself as the presidential candidate, the best-case scenario may be to have multiple presidential candidates while uniting all right-wing parties under her own banner. In truth, Akşener has benefited the least from joining the “table for six” and faces more serious political problems than the rest. In the end, she has to make sacrifices to reach an agreement on the presidential candidate and common policies.

Until now, the IP chair has failed to get Kılıçdaroğlu to endorse the candidacy of the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara. Moreover, she withdrew her name from consideration prematurely, taking seriously Kılıçdaroğlu’s initial call for party leaders not to run for president. She cannot demand to be considered either, as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) vetoes her candidacy. If Kılıçdaroğlu were to run, however, the IP’s secularist supporters could shift toward the CHP.

From a policy standpoint, too, do the CHP and the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) put the IP in a difficult spot? The IP continues to lose nationalist voters due to the CHP’s continued proximity to the HDP. The most recent statements by Ali Babacan, the DEVA chairperson who wants to lure away HDP voters, too, create problems for Akşener. Specifically, Babacan’s calls for “redefining Turkish citizenship” and “recognizing Kurdish as a native language” are certain to be received negatively by the IP base. Indeed, the IP’s spokesperson, Kürşad Zorlu, said that Babacan’s remarks were not binding for the “table for six” and insisted that the joint constitutional proposal remained the same.

Does Ali Babacan’s remarks on the Kurdish language mean that the various components of the “table for six” will adopt individual policies in addition to the opposition bloc’s common policies? We will have to wait and see.

HDP’s fate

The HDP’s fate and position remain the most critical issue, as the elections draw near. On Thursday, the Constitutional Court ruled to freeze the Treasury’s financial aid to the HDP in an 8-to-7 vote. That suggests that the HDP faces serious problems down the road.

If the court bans the HDP, the HDP will demand strong support from the “table for six.” If that party remains operational, in turn, it will insist on public negotiations and enter into talks with serious ambitions. None of those potential developments would create serious problems for the fringe parties around the “table for six.” DEVA will find a way to engage in politics outside the opposition bloc. The Future Party, in turn, is busy trying to legitimize the CHP-dominated “table.”

In contrast, the Good Party, which plays a key role within the opposition bloc, is set to face greater challenges in all the relevant ways. To make matters worse, Akşener faces a stream of accusations from CHP circles. That is why she would want the election to take place as soon as possible.

[Daily Sabah, January 7 2023]

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