A joint opposition bid to take on Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan descended into chaos little more than two months before the country holds crucial elections.
Six of the country’s biggest opposition parties have been working for months on a common platform for the May 14 vote and had been due to announce a joint candidate on Monday.
But on Friday Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist Good party, the second biggest opposition force, signalled that her grouping would break with the six-party coalition and called for new candidates to take on Erdoğan. She added that the alliance had “lost its skill of reflecting people’s will”.
The fracturing of the common front, which had included all the leading opposition forces except the pro-Kurdish HDP, is a boost for Erdoğan.
After two decades in power the president is facing one of his toughest electoral tests, due to the combined effect of runaway inflation, alleged economic mismanagement and public outrage over the response to last month’s devastating earthquake, which killed more than 45,000 in Turkey alone.
“What happened today is a major blow to [the opposition’s] effort” to unseat Erdoğan, said Wolfango Piccoli at political consultancy Teneo, adding that the fractured opposition had become the president’s “greatest asset”.
Akşener said she could not back Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s party (CHP), by far the biggest opposition group, to represent the coalition. She added that the other four political parties had rubber stamped his candidacy.
Instead, she called on Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara respectively, to stand in the election. “Our people are calling you for duty,” she said.
Piccoli said Akşener’s call for either of the two mayors to run in the election was in effect calling for a “rebellion” within the CHP.
Kılıçdaroğlu vowed that the alliance would “continue on our path” even without the support of Akşener’s party.
However, the remaining four members of the coalition — excluding the CHP and the Good party — account for only about 1 per cent of the vote each, Piccoli said.
This year’s presidential election has been identified as one of the most significant races in Turkey’s recent history by both the government and the opposition, as Erdoğan seeks to consolidate his power on the 100th anniversary of the republic’s formation.
Unless one candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote outright, the election is due to go to a second round, which opposition politicians hope could consolidate support for an anti-Erdoğan candidate.
The president’s poll ratings slid last year as much of the population endured a cost of living crisis that most economists say has been worsened by government policies. But Erdoğan subsequently announced popular initiatives such as increases in the minimum wage and public sector salaries.