As the Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener’s criticism of the opposition alliance sets the political agenda, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who lost the 2023 presidential race, refuses to respond to Akşener or any right-wing party. Despite having formed the “grand coalition,” he keeps mum and politely ignores questions from reporters.
Kılıçdaroğlu may have told a local journalist that he should have engaged in public self-criticism and answered to the people shortly after the May 2023 elections. Yet, it was a deliberate choice to keep silent.
It seems that the CHP chairperson would rather avoid a war of words with opposition leaders as his movement goes through a leadership crisis. He knows perfectly well that talking about the opposition’s shortcomings or defending himself or his party would merely aggravate the opposition bloc’s fragmentation.
With his former allies already talking about the possibility of fielding their own candidates, any public remarks by Kılıçdaroğlu might completely rule out any collaboration among opposition parties. Such a move would offer plenty of rhetorical ammunition to the People’s Alliance and add insult to injury ahead of the March 2024 municipal elections.
It goes without saying that the main opposition party must secure the support of the IP and the Peoples’ Democratic Party-Green Left Party (HDP-YSP) to get its mayors reelected next year.
Any endorsement from right-wing fringe parties wouldn’t hurt either. That’s why Kılıçdaroğlu keeps silent and forces pro-CHP commentators to defend the movement against Akşener, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ali Babacan instead.
What is the impact of Kılıçdaroğlu’s silence?
More and more people come to agree with the IP and others that the main opposition party was responsible for the election defeat. It also becomes more difficult for the CHP leadership to negotiate terms for province-level collaborations.
As Kılıçdaroğlu focuses on the CHP’s upcoming congress, the view that the main opposition party will be compelled to make concessions becomes widespread. Obviously, the opposition alliance played into the CHP’s hands in terms of negotiations. The main opposition party won mayoral races in Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya in 2019 as the Good Party did not win anything.
In the May 2023 elections, the “table for six” plan resulted in the CHP chairperson’s presidential bid and the possibility of two CHP-affiliated mayors serving as vice presidents.
At the end of the day, all of the opposition’s components suffered a defeat. Yet, the IP suffered disproportionately as Meral Akşener was forced to give up on the presidency and her movement suffered setbacks during the negotiations. Had the threshold not been lowered to 7%, the IP would have failed to win any parliamentary seats at all. The movement’s right-wing supporters were alienated due to the HDP’s endorsement of Kılıçdaroğlu.
At the same time, the HDP did not field any candidates in the last two elections. Its mayors were replaced by independent trustees as the movement’s popular support dropped to 8%.
Likewise, the right-wing fringe parties that contested the parliamentary election on the CHP ticket may have received 10 parliamentary seats each but what they received didn’t cover their loss of political significance. To make matters worse, they have been accused of disloyalty by pro-CHP commentators.
One might argue that Kılıçdaroğlu shelters himself and his party from attacks by not participating in any intra-opposition debates. The same does not apply to CHP voters though. The May 2023 campaign boosted the opposition’s level of politicization and self-confidence. Yet Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat did not just cause disappointment. It also transformed the electorate’s politicization into a reaction and alienated voters from the opposition parties. At this point, many opposition voters find themselves in deep apathy.
Cracking down on pro-change voices and keeping silent transforms the CHP base’s anger into alienation. Overcoming that sentiment will represent Kılıçdaroğlu’s greatest challenge. He would have to step down as chairperson if he were to engage in self-criticism and took the fall for what happened. Blaming his partners, however, would rule out a desperately needed alliance for next year’s municipal elections. Yet, CHP-affiliated mayors failing to get reelected would disappoint and alienate the party’s supporters.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s only remaining option is to attack the governing alliance to mobilize the CHP base. That could obviously benefit the People’s Alliance and hurt CHP-affiliated mayors, too.
Last but not least, many CHP voters feel that Kılıçdaroğlu might cause their party to split up – which deepens their sense of alienation and distrust.