Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader del CHP e principale sfidante di Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alla presidenza della Turchia - © BFA-Basin Foto Ajansi/Shutterstock

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP and main challenger of Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the presidency of Turkey - © BFA-Basin Foto Ajansi/Shutterstock

On May 14 Turkey will vote for political and presidential elections. A large part of the opposition managed to unite in the "Table of Six", with the aim of defeating current president Erdogan and blocking the authoritarian drift in the country

06/04/2023 -  Fazıla Mat

Turkey is preparing to face what is probably the most important election in its history. The presidential and parliamentary consultations called for May 14 by President Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), could cement the Turkish head of state's regime, making its authoritarian traits even tougher. But they could also lead to a return to a more liberal political system, as a sign of the rediscovery of democratic dialogue, if the fragmented opposition manages to maintain a united front until the end of these consultations, obtaining the majority of votes to form a new government led by by a new president.

Erdogan's main opponent is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP (Republican People's Party) since 2010, candidate for president of the so-called "Table of Six" (Altili Masa), also known as the "Nation's Alliance" (Millet Ittifaki), formed by six parties of different ambitions and political orientations, united by the goal of ending the 20-year rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The historic opportunity is also the result of widespread citizen frustration after years of economic turmoil, deep social divisions and, more recently, the government's delayed response to the devastating earthquakes in early February that killed more than 50,000 people and left millions homeless.

The Table of Six

In addition to the centre-left CHP, the coalition is formed by the nationalist Good Party (IYIP-Iyi Parti), the Islamist Happiness Party (Saadet Partisi), and the centre-right Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti). A first alliance of these four parties was initially formed in 2018, on the occasion of the 2019 local elections, and was a winning move, as the electoral result led two crucial municipalities such as Istanbul and Ankara to switch from the AKP to the CHP. For this reason, the alliance was reunited and extended in March 2022, with the arrival of the Party of the Future (Gelecek Partisi) and the Party of Democracy and Progress (DEVA Partisi) – centre-right formations, founded respectively by two former AKP top names, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former Economy Minister Ali Babacan.

Such a union of disparate political positions led to several months of negotiations to create a joint agenda aimed primarily at establishing a new form of government, putting an end to the presidential system introduced in 2017. According to opposition parties, the current system, which sees the concentration of executive power in the hands of the president, has contributed to the authoritarian trend and polarisation of the country. The suggested solution to restore the mechanisms of checks and balances and regain a functioning parliament is to reintroduce a 'strengthened' parliamentary system, i.e. based on the institution of constructive non-confidence, and to establish a figure of non-partisan president – therefore diametrically opposed to the figure of the current president.

On the very choice of the common presidential candidate, at the beginning of March, the "Table of Six" was severely tested following the attempt by Meral Aksener, leader of IYIP – the second strongest party in the alliance – to impose the candidacy of two other popular figures of the CHP – Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas – instead of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, arguing that his party's electoral base did not see the latter's candidacy well. But the tactics of the IYIP leader, who also temporarily left the alliance, did not have the desired effect. Faced with the rest of the opposition and the CHP mayors united around the figure of Kilicdaroglu, Meral Aksener returned to the "Table", however obtaining for the two mayors the position of vice presidents in case of victory of the opposition. If Kilicdaroglu wins, the leaders of the other five parties will also become vice presidents, while each party will occupy at least one ministry. The rest of the cabinet posts will be distributed according to each party's share of the popular vote.


According to the average of 11 recent polls , the "Table of Six" would not win, since it would obtain around 45%, while the candidate would have to receive at least 50%+1 of the votes to be elected in the first round. The key contribution, in this case, will depend on the pro-Kurdish and left-wing Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third party in parliament since 2015, but demonised and accused by the government of having a direct link with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

An imminent ruling by the Constitutional Court is also hanging over the head of the HDP, which will decide whether or not the party will be banned. At the end of March, the co-leaders of the party, Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, met Kemal Kilicdaroglu, whose openness to dialogue contributed to the HDP's decision not to present a presidential candidate in the elections, effectively endorsing the CHP leader's candidacy, which could thus reach around 55% of the preferences, also with the contribution of the Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP) and other small left-wing parties with which the HDP forms a third alliance, that of “Labour and freedom” (Emek ve Ozgurluk Ittifaki).

On the opposite side, the AKP alone maintains 32.8% of the vote – although according to polling companies close to the party, the figure rises to over 40% – while the MHP (Nationalist Action Party), its main ally, continues to lose votes to the nationalist opposition, reaching around 6.5%.

Erdogan's moves

Faced with this scenario, to strengthen the People's Alliance (Cumhur Ittifaki), the strings of which he pulls, Erdogan has tightened his alliance with the Islamist right. On the one hand, he has begun courting the New Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah Partisi), a renewed version of the Islamist and nationalist Refah of which the Turkish president was a member and among the ranks of which he was elected mayor of Istanbul back in 1994 and then took over the distances and founding the AKP in 2001 – then defined as 'conservative democrats'. The son of Refah's founder, Fatih Erbakan, leader of the new formation, first rejected the alliance offer – stating that his party "would not have committed a twenty-year sin" – before accepting.

Erdogan then also obtained the external support of Huda Par (The Party of the Free Cause), an Islamist Kurdish party formation connected with the terrorist group Hizbullah – responsible for heinous crimes, including the murder of feminist writer Konca Guris and Diyarbakir police chief Gaffar Okkan in the late 1990s – as repeatedly highlighted in the local press. Party leader Zekeriya Yapicioglu has so far requested and obtained  that 47 articles mentioning these connections be blocked by the court, based on the violation of "privacy" and "personal rights".

The two new government allies have positions that openly threaten women's rights, as well as the amendment of Law 6284 on the Protection of the Family and the Prevention of Violence against Women – stemming from the Istanbul Convention from which Turkey withdrew in 2021. This is a precondition imposed by the New Welfare Party and endorsed by Huda Par which has also sparked protests  among some AKP women deputies. According to some local media, the close alliance between the AKP and the Islamist parties – with preferences respectively around 1.5% and 0.3% – shows how much the AKP cares about even the slightest additional support for the coalition, although some observers note that such an alliance may alienate female supporters.

Both Kilicdaroglu's and Erdogan's coalitions aim to win the election in the first round. But a ballot is not impossible. One factor that could jeopardise the success of the "Table of 6" is the country's party (Memleket Partisi), led by Muammer Ince, the third candidate for president. Ince was already a candidate for president of the CHP in 2018, managing to get 30% of the votes, but he lost the graces of his supporters after he literally disappeared from circulation when it was clear that Erdogan had won. Ince was later ousted from the party due to internal strife and lost much of his popularity. Last month, however, some polls gave his party between 2 and 5.6%. Votes that would be stolen from the opposition front, eroding Kilicdaroglu's chances of winning in the first round. It is no coincidence that the pro-government media continue to devote ample space to Ince.

The race between the opposition and the government is once again characterised by large imbalances in terms of access to resources and the media. Several jurists have also pointed out that according to the constitution, President Erdogan – already elected in 2014 and 2018 – is unfit to run a third time. The government – with the endorsement of the Higher Electoral Council – says that the system was 'reset' after the transition to the presidential system in 2017 and the opposition had to budge. The electoral campaign has just begun, the victory for the AKP this time is not at all certain, and it is reasonable to expect other twists and turns in the next six weeks.

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