United against Erdogan: Turkey opposition's alliance of necessity

Four politically distinct parties form bloc to challenge Turkish president and his party in key polls.

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    CHP officials say the people see their alliance as a necessary sacrifice and respect it [Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]
    CHP officials say the people see their alliance as a necessary sacrifice and respect it [Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]

    Istanbul, Turkey - The upcoming key elections in Turkey will see an unlikely alliance between four opposition parties to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party.

    The vote is the first time presidential and parliamentary polls will be held simultaneously, in line with the last year's constitutional changes that will transform the country's parliamentary system to an executive presidential one.

    The changes, which will largely enter into force after the June 24 polls, are set to hand the next president significant executive powers, abolish the prime ministry and remove the monitoring role of parliament, among other changes.

    Erdogan, hoping to keep his seat with its future increased powers, has entered the race in the face of a depreciating lira, strained relations with the West and criticism from rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch over what they call the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in the country.

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    The opposition's newly-formed Nation Alliance includes main opposition centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP), the debuting right-wing Good Party (IYI) and ultraconservative Felicity Party (SP), with backing from the minor centre-right Democrat Party (DP).

    The opposition alliance is challenging Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) which joined forces with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to create the People's Alliance.

    Both alliances were established in line with recently introduced legislation that allows political parties to form election alliances in parliamentary polls. Such alliances were previously banned.

    According to the law passed by parliament on March 3, an officially formed bloc can jointly pass Turkey's unusually high 10 percent parliamentary election threshold.

    However, citizens will still vote for individual parties shown within their blocs on the ballots. The legislation is to help smaller parties enter parliament by joining forces with larger ones.

    Nation Alliance voters say the four parties have come together out of necessity and obligation [Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]


    Unexpected partners

    The sight of religiously ultraconservative SP with the secularist CHP of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, would have been unimaginable in the past.

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    The SP represents a political movement that Erdogan and his AK Party broke away from at the beginning of the 2000s as they believed it was too traditional to appeal to the masses.

    Erdogan Toprak, an Istanbul MP for the CHP, believes voters do not care much about the identities or ideologies of political parties in the coming polls, because they have a different priority.

    "Concerns voters carry about the future surpasses their political differences, be they nationalists, conservatives, leftists or anything else. And this is unprecedented," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Voters from all parties in the bloc see it as a necessary sacrifice we had to make and they respect it."

    Concerns voters carry about the future surpasses their political differences, be they nationalists, conservatives, leftists or anything else. And this is unprecedented.

    Erdogan Toprak, MP of CHP

    The prospect of the Nation Alliance was first revealed with an unexpected and significant show of solidarity between the CHP and IYI Party, which was formed by the banned members of the MHP only months before the elections.

    After Erdogan called snap elections in April, discussions emerged over whether the IYI party was eligible to run or not.

    The debate was over a controversy around the date of its founding party congress, as parties must be founded at least six months before the election date in order to join the race.

    At this point, the CHP officially loaned IYI Party 15 MPs to ensure that it can be in the race, as parties with 20 deputies in parliament are automatically eligible to compete according to Turkish election law.

    'Necessary alliance'

    Supporters of the Nation Alliance say that the three parties are cooperating to get a higher number of seats in parliament and have a shot at defeating Erdogan in the presidential race before he gains executive presidential powers.

    Mesut Kosedagi, a member of the CHP's Istanbul branch, says the Nation Alliance is made up of people who are tired of the AK Party government and have come together to create an alternative to it.

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    "The government has polarised the society to an extreme extent as 'us and them'. Our alliance is a partnership of 'them', regardless of how different their political views are. Turkey's current situation has blurred ideological lines," the 35-year-old business owner told Al Jazeera while trying to attract voters for his party in a main Istanbul square.

    "These political parties have come together partly out of necessity and obligation, but their bonding point is their support for the parliamentary system, against an executive presidential one."

    Osman Altmisdort, an IYI Party volunteer, agreed: "All partners in the alliance are pro-democracy parties that believe in the parliamentary system. That's where their paths cross."

    "All of them want change. They want to change this government for the better," he told Al Jazeera, as he posed by a large IYI Party banner.

    IYI Party volunteer Altmisdort says all parties in the Nation Alliance believe in the parliamentary system [Umut Uras/Al Jazeera]

    Individual candidates

    Although the parties in the Nation Alliance are entering the parliamentary polls as a bloc, they will have individual candidates in the presidential polls and will support whoever faces Erdogan in the possible second round of the presidential elections.

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    The CHP's candidate, Muharrem Ince, is a fiery Erdogan critic and a social democrat who has a religious side that might attract more devout voters.

    His supporters say he has the image of an honest Turkish citizen who came from a poor family and worked hard to be successful.

    Meral Aksener, the IYI Party leader and presidential candidate, is a former interior minister popular with nationalist and right-wing voters.

    She successfully launched herself and her young party into popular right-wing politics.

    SP leader Temel Karamollaoglu is another presidential hopeful. A conservative Muslim, he has had a 40-year political career. Erdogan had been a member of the SP before he split off and founded the AK Party.

    Surveys suggest that Ince leads the votes among the opposition candidates, followed by Aksener.

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    All three politicians have promised to throw their weight behind each other if the polls go to a second round.

    They also pledged to reinstate a parliamentary system if they are elected, gradually giving up their executive presidential powers.

    Ender Tanyeri, a CHP volunteer campaigning in the central Istanbul district of Besiktas, said that he sees the coming elections as the last chance before Erdogan establishes, what he sees as "one-man rule".

    "I want to wake up to a Turkey without Erdogan," the 23-year-old student told Al Jazeera before he started explaining a voter about Ince's election promises.

    AK Party officials have repeatedly criticised the opposition bloc for not having anything in common apart from being against Erdogan.

    "These unrelated political parties have come together in one common ground, in being anti-Erdogan," Hayati Yazici, an AK Party deputy chairman, said on Wednesday, claiming that the partners in the Nation Alliance do not offer any real programmes.

    Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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