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Turkey’s once irreconcilable political factions unite in opposition to Erdoğan

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A Turkish flag with an image of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, hangs over the headquarters of an Islamist political party.

Turkey’s Islamists, pioneered by the late prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, generally view Atatürk as a radical reformer who undermined the role of religion in Turkey. They have long criticized the one-party era in Turkey, when the Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Atatürk, ruled the country as a single-party government until 1950.

As Turkey’s opposition leaders ended months of debate on Monday and agreed to name the head of the main opposition party as their joint candidate against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the upcoming presidential election, the unique nature of the coalition against the country’s strongman — which united political factions in the country once considered irreconcilable — crystallized, in contrast to the Atatürk flag, representing the strictly secular ideology of Kemalism, hanging over the headquarters of the flag bearer of the Islamist tradition, the Felicity Party (SP).

At SP headquarters the party chairman, Temel Karamollaoğlu, welcomed CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, nationalist İYİ (Good) Party chairwoman Meral Akşener, Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) Chairman Ali Babacan, Future Party (GP) Chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu and the Democrat Party’s (DP) Gültekin Uysal, the opposition bloc often referred to as the “Table of Six,” who formed a united front against President Erdoğan on Monday in a pivotal moment in Turkish political history.

If Kılıçdaroğlu wins against Erdoğan, he will become Turkey’s first Alevi president, as he belongs to this religious minority that has a long history of oppression in the country.

“Just as the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) monopoly on the US presidency was broken in 1960 with the election of the Catholic J.F. Kennedy as president, and just as Barack Hussein Obama was elected the first black president of the United States in 2008, Turkey will be able to cross a major threshold toward national unity and democracy with the election of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as president in 2023 on the 100th anniversary of the republic thanks to the Table of Six,” veteran journalist Cengiz Çandar wrote for the T24 news website.

Broad coalition

“From the beginning, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was the most deserving candidate to be nominated as a joint presidential candidate by the Nation Alliance [2018 electoral alliance between the İYİ Party, SP and CHP]. The Table of Six and the Nation Alliance were established thanks to him. He demonstrated a spirit of teamwork and equality among the constituents, and although he was the main opposition leader, he did not even fully assume the position of primus inter pares, first among equals,” Çandar wrote.

Indeed, many attribute the success of the formation of a broad coalition between secularists, Islamists, leftists and nationalists to Kılıçdaroğlu, who would receive 56 percent of the vote in the presidential election against Erdoğan, who would come in at 43 percent, according to a recent survey by the ORC pollster.

DEVA chairman Babacan and GP leader Davutoğlu were co-founders of President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and held top positions but broke away from it in protest of Erdoğan’s policies and founded their own parties.

İYİ leader Akşener served as interior minister for seven months between 1996 and 1997 as a member of the right-wing True Path Party (DYP). She later joined the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), where she eventually became a fierce critic of party leader Devlet Bahçeli for his decision to form an alliance with Erdoğan and his AKP. An opposition group within the MHP had left the party in 2017 and founded the İYİ Party.

“There was a short-lived Kemalist-Islamist coalition in the 1970s and a center-right Kemalist coalition in the 1990s. But this is the first time that an alliance has been formed that unites almost all political currents in Turkey. The most striking aspect of the alliance is that the six parties [whose predecessors] have fought each other fiercely since Turkey’s transition to a multiparty system in 1946, and whose union was not thought possible, have set a goal against the Erdoğan regime within the framework of ‘democracy, rule of law, freedoms and norms of the European Union’ This is because the ‘Western and European orientation’ is still the main driving force of Turkish democracy, as it was in the past,”
Prof. Dr. Vedat Demir from the Department of Social and Political Science at the Free University of Berlin wrote for Turkish Minute.

The only large opposition party that is not included in the big-tent coalition is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish party that is seen as a kingmaker in the race. The HDP said it might refrain from running its own candidate and is open to joining Kılıçdaroğlu’s opposition bloc.

After more than 11 years as prime minister of Turkey, Erdoğan, who has been in power since 2003, was elected president in 2014. At the time the office was primarily ceremonial. But in 2017, Turkish voters approved an executive presidential system, significantly expanding Erdoğan’s powers. Erdoğan was re-elected the following year. Critics call the system “one-man rule.”

Erdoğan has faced increasing criticism in recent years over his handling of the economy, his crackdown on dissent and his divisive rhetoric. The president has faced allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

The election is considered the most consequential in Turkey since its birth as a post-Ottoman republic 100 years ago.

“Today, we are very close to overthrowing the throne of the oppressors,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Tuesday in a final parliamentary address to his party members.

“Together, we will end this madness,” he added. “I am hopeful, my friends. I am very hopeful.”

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