While western media continue to falsely describe tomorrow’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey as a contest between “secularism and religion”, the reality could not be further from the truth. Contrary to simplistic and ultimately false rumours that if President Erdogan is re-elected with an AK Party majority behind him in Parliament, Turkey will cease being a secular democracy with natural Islamic characteristics, the reality is that Erdogan’s opposition have formed an unusual coalition that will likely fracture after the election in spite of which side wins.
The leading opposition CH Party has formed the National Alliance, a coalition of multiple parties which in many cases have incompatible views. The most strange inclusion in the coalition is the Saadet (Felicity) Party. The Saadet party seeks to turn Turkey’s constitutional order on its head by creating an effective Islamic theocracy. So far as Saadet is concerned, President Erdogan’s AK Party is far too secular, which is why it is odd that Saadet is in league with the CH Party whose traditional mantra has been that the AK is a threat to secularism. Also part of this coalition is the İyi (Good) Party, a relatively new political group formed from a splintered faction of the conservative/nationalist MHP party who are themselves fighting elections in support of the AK Party. Rounding off the coalition is the small Democratic Party which currently has zero seats in the Turkish parliament with negligible numbers in local legislatures.
In effect, the CH Party has decided to coalesce with a combination of Islamic extremists, a virtual non-entity party and a party split from Erdogan’s MHP allies. If this is supposed to represent some new hybrid ideology capable of fostering genuine support among opponents of Erdogan’s populist, multipolar, pro-growth policies, it clearly falls well short of the mark.
Instead, the opposition coalition represents a conduit of frustration against the inability of multiple parties including the main opposition CH to actually convince Turks that there is a viable alternative to Erdogan’s AK. Of course, in any political system there ought to be healthy alternatives to the government, even if the government has a generally strong economic and social record. But in Turkey, even prior to the formation of the present electoral opposition bloc, opponents of the AK more readily defined themselves by what they opposed than by what they stood for. As the Turkish economy has objectively improved greatly under AK rule in areas ranging from growth, trade, employment and wages – simply stating that “we are opposed to what the AK and Erdogan stand for” is not going to be enough to inspire genuinely undecided and non-partisan voters that the alternative is sufficiently attractive vis-a-vis the status quo.
Even the CH Party which historically does stand for easily defined and presently tangible policies, has run a campaign based on a combination of cynical oppositionism, pro-Europeanism at a time when the EU itself is experiencing multiple crises and a desire to present CH Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince as a man who is essentially a poor man’s Erdogan. In terms of his campaigning style, Ince has staged the kind of rallies that Erdogan pioneered and continues to master, while in spite of claiming that secularism is in danger, Ince is simultaneously flaunting his pious credentials, all the while coalescing with a party who feels Erdogan is far too secular.
In a word, the Turkish’s opposition’s modus operandi is opportunism and little else. While Ince and other opposition figures have grown fond of saying that Erdogan has become weak, compromised and is past his prime, the optics of the entire opposition campaign suggest a desperate attempt to unseat Erdogan and the AK after years of failing to stop the forward momentum of the governing party and President. In other words, if Erdogan was as weak as Ince says, he wouldn’t need to be working so hard to unseat him using every political trick in the book that is resorted to by opposition groups confused about their own ideology and certain only that they risk losing credibility if they fail in yet another election.
While the opposition will likely be successful in galvanising frustration among those who have benefited from the AK’s successful economic record but have internalised fears that a “bubble is about to burst” (something explored and refuted in a piece that can be read here), party loyalists and an odd combination of secular Europeanists and hard-core Islamists, such a force will not likely win the votes that ultimately decide elections.
Apart from his own party loyalists, Erdogan and the AK have shown themselves to be not only a safe pair of hands but an independent one. If the choice is Europeanism versus Islamism, then Turks should vote for the opposition because oddly the opposition coalition is offering the incompatible combination of both. But for Turks who like people in most countries seek economic growth, geopolitical independence and the prospects for future material and social enrichment that come through making new trade deals with global rather than just regional partners, the AK and its partners will be the logical choice.
Because of this, it is likely that when all is said and done, Erdogan and the AK will remain in power while the opposition will have to re-examine an election strategy honed in desperation and glued together by ideologically asymmetrical coalition whose centre cannot hold.