Heads of the six opposition parties making up the "table for six" during their meeting on the election agreement in the capital Ankara, Türkiye, Jan. 30, 2023. (EPA Photo)

Kılıçdaroğlu will be the target in every scenario

CHP Chair Kılıçdaroğlu will not be able to avoid being the target of the agenda, whether he is a candidate or not

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been effectively campaigning to clinch the opposition’s joint endorsement for two years.

Building on the assumption that “the chairperson’s ambition elevates the party,” that campaign has actually positioned Kılıçdaroğlu as a potential candidate. However, it had little impact on the CHP’s performance. Unlike in 2014 and 2018, the main opposition leader attempted to gradually get the opposition to rally behind his candidacy with a two-pronged approach.

First, Kılıçdaroğlu united six opposition parties around “the table” and tied their hands. Subsequently, he imposed himself as the leader of the largest opposition party. In response to Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener’s attempt to handpick the opposition’s candidate by ruling out her own candidacy, the CHP chairperson blocked presidential hopefuls Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş.

Nowadays, many CHP supporters publicly admit that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu forged the “table for six” to run for president himself. Whether the opposition bloc endorses a candidate in February or March, time is on the main opposition leader’s side. After all, it would be immensely difficult for any candidate to run an effective campaign in the final two months unless they already lead a political party. The IP pushes back against Kılıçdaroğlu’s imposition by saying that they won’t “rubberstamp” anyone, but the only option available to Akşener, their chairperson, appears to be a vice presidential appointment with slightly more authority than the rest of the right-wing opposition leaders.

Upon receiving the opposition bloc’s endorsement, Kılıçdaroğlu will presumably try once again to strike a bargain with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to conclude the first part of his campaign.

Election battle against Erdoğan

Obviously, the second part will involve an election battle against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. That will be the most difficult part, whether the main opposition leader ends up contesting the election or not.

It goes without saying that the People’s Alliance, acting like they want Kılıçdaroğlu to challenge President Erdoğan, will focus their campaign on the CHP’s past and present. The election will take place on May 14, the anniversary of the Democrat Party’s (DP) first victory over the CHP, which will enable the incumbent to target the main opposition party quite fiercely.

The People’s Alliance will twist the arm of right-wing parties, including the IP, by accusing them of being weak and having hidden behind CHP. It remains to be seen whether opposition voters will be willing to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been imposing his candidacy on them for two years, after a two-month-long campaign.

According to the latest opinion polls, more voters say they do not favor Kılıçdaroğlu than any other politician.

Another candidate?

Against all odds, the increasingly less likely scenario would involve the main opposition leader endorsing another candidate to contest the presidential election. It would be unnatural, however, for Kılıçdaroğlu to let another opposition leader run and take credit for “uniting the opposition.” In that case, the main opposition party could not possibly persuade its disgruntled supporters with Kılıçdaroğlu’s emphasis on “the nation’s survival” or accusations against public institutions. Nor would the CHP chairperson be able to explain why he blocked the candidacy of his party’s mayors in the first place.

Indeed, Kılıçdaroğlu would find himself under heavy fire if he cannot get the opposition bloc to endorse his candidacy after two years of campaigning. In that case, Erdoğan would almost certainly mock the main opposition leader for having been vetoed by a couple of fringe parties and urge him to retire without further delay.

Either way, it would seem that the ruling alliance will build its election campaign around the main opposition leader. Even if Akşener were to suggest that multiple candidates contest the presidential election without disintegrating the opposition bloc, Kılıçdaroğlu has no choice left but to run – as the joint candidate or the CHP candidate.

Judging by the outcome of his two-year push for the joint candidacy, the CHP chairperson will be held responsible for the opposition’s potential defeat by President Erdoğan. In that case, Akşener (who advocates for picking an “electable” candidate) will have been proven right – to no avail.

One way or another, Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidential candidacy stands to undermine the IP’s popularity and he will be at the heart of the election campaign even if he does not run in the end.

[Daily Sabah, February 07 2023]

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