Ahmet Kulsoy
Mar 09 2018

Turkish opposition needs alliance to beat Erdoğan - academic

Turkish opposition parties have to form a grand electoral alliance if they want to defeat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in parliamentary and presidential polls next year that will mark the start of a new executive presidency, said Professor Seyfettin Gürsel, Director of the Bahçeşehir University Centre for Economic and Social Research in Istanbul.

Having only just scraped through last year’s referendum on whether to transform Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system and with opinion polls showing support at around 40 percent, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has made an alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Opposition parties have meanwhile come under increasing pressure, with around a dozen pro-Kurdish members of parliament and one deputy from the main opposition in jail. The ongoing state of emergency, imposed after the failed 2016 coup, also hampers the opposition’s election chances.

To overcome Erdoğan’s dominance – his party has not lost an election since 2002 – the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the nationalist Good Party and Islamist Felicity Party should form an electoral alliance to jointly campaign for a return to parliamentary democracy, Gürsel said in an interview.

“The most effective coalition would be for all opposition parties to enter into an agreement. Just to repeat, these parties agree on human rights, democracy and the need to return to a parliamentary system,” he said. “A coalition is necessary to have a democratic, human rights focused parliamentary system”

“They are going to be subjected to severe criticism from both the AKP and MHP. They have to explain the position of their joint alliance well to their party members and supporters too. I don’t know if they can. But, if they can, with a majority in parliament, they can implement a return to a parliamentary system.”

seyfettin gürsel

The parties might also chose a common candidate to fight the presidential election, like the parliamentary polls due before November next year, though both could be called earlier.

Erdoğan has to secure 50 percent plus one vote to win the presidential election in the first round. If no candidate secures the necessary majority, a run-off is held.

It was with this in mind that Erdoğan agreed to an alliance with the MHP, Gürsel said. The far-right party may struggle to gain the necessary 10 percent of the vote necessary to take up seats in parliament. The deal clearly helps the MHP, but also helps to shore up support for Erdoğan in the presidential election.

“I believe the AKP does not think Erdoğan has the popular support to win in the first round of the upcoming presidential elections, forcing him to go into the second round … which is why the AKP needed the MHP’s support,” Gürsel said.

Yet, Gürsel also points out that according to calculations based on previous general election results, this alliance strategy may not make a significant impact on election results.

“In Nov. 1, the AKP gained 317 seats. Under the alliance, this would mean 327 seats in the next election. The MHP gained 40 seats. Now, it would be 43. 12 of the extra 13 seats to be gained under the alliance would be taken from the CHP, while only 1 would be taken from HDP. In the June 7, 2015 elections, the AKP’s votes were low (41%), while the MHP votes were high (16%). It was the contrary in the Nov. 1, 2015 general elections, with the AKP receiving 49% of the votes and MHP receiving 11%. The number of extra seats to be received under the alliance will not be very high in either scenario.”

These calculations highlight that the number of extra seats to be gained through alliance falls when the MHP’s votes decrease.

“This means that if the increase in their vote share remains around 6-7% as expected, then the number of seats gained may be much lower then intended. In that case, the alliance strategy will only help MHP to pass the election threshold”.

Opposition parties meanwhile need to help the pro-Kurdish HDP pass the 10 percent barrier. The leftist HDP is strongest in the mainly Kurdish southeast, but the AKP usually comes second in the region by appealing to conservative Islamic values.

“If the HDP obtains the required the necessary votes of at least 10 percent, it will gain most of the MPs in the east and southeast. Polls and past elections show this,” Gürsel said.

“Of course, if it does not receive the necessary 10 percent of the vote, 90 percent of the MPs in the east and southeast will go to the AKP, which is what the AKP wants. So, in this situation, the HDP, in order not to fall below the 10 percent requirement, has to be part of a coalition with the other parties,” he said. According to Gürsel, the AKP vote share and whether HDP will receive at least 10 percent of the vote or not will be the two main factors determining the next election results.

The nationalist Good Party and Islamist Felicity Party might also fail to pass the 10-percent threshold to enter parliament and their places would then likely also be swept up by the AKP and MHP. However, an alliance between opposition parties may sweep away most of the extra seats of AKP-MHP alliance:

“We see that both the Good Party and the Felicity Party will not pass the election threshold if they do not form an alliance with the CHP. If they can manage to cooperate, the number of extra seats to be gained by the AKP-MHP alliance will be quite limited.”

The presence of the HDP in parliament, Gürsel said, was also necessary to try to resolve the Kurdish question and end more than three decades of fighting with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The HDP was the third biggest party in parliament after the last elections in 2015.

“The HDP is connected with the Kurdish question. It is essential to solving the Kurdish issue peacefully. The HDP must be in parliament. If the HDP is not represented in parliament, there will be serious issues,” he said.

But an alliance with the HDP might be a hard sell for the other opposition parties that have traditionally taken an even more hard line on Kurdish issues than the AKP. The ruling party, helped by mediation by the HDP, entered peace talks with the PKK and secured a two-and-a-half year ceasefire with the group that broke down in 2015.