Turkish president attempts to cooperate with opposition to stay in power


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is attempting to cooperate with the secular opposition to create a new constitution so that he can run for re-election, analysts told The Media Line. He is reportedly set to meet the opposition leader in the coming days.

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Erdoğan met with Özgür Özel, the leader of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), on May 2, after stating that he wanted a “softening” of politics, which has also been referred to as “normalization.”

It was the first meeting between the Turkish president and the CHP leader in almost eight years.

Erdoğan has repeatedly said he wants to create a new constitution, and support from the opposition party could be crucial in doing so.

The change in tone, after years of opposition politicians and journalists being imprisoned, came after Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered its biggest election loss in nationwide local elections on March 31. The CHP came out as the leading party.

Ozgur Ünlühisarcıklı, the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara office director, told The Media Line that Erdoğan’s top goal is to be able to run for re-election, which requires the Parliament to either call for early elections or change the constitution, which needs support from opposition parties.

The Turkish president could attempt to hold a referendum with the support of smaller parties to change the constitution, but that would be risky after the results of the local elections.

“Erdoğan’s just trying to diversify his options … he likes to have options,” Unlühisarcıklı said. He also stated that people in Turkey want competing parties to talk to each other and that he believes that Erdoğan could make concessions to the opposition to get support for a new constitution. “I think it’s a very good sign, even if it does not produce any results because, first of all, when the leaders are on talking terms, I think it will also reflect on their voters. Maybe it’ll help mitigate the deep polarisation in Turkey.

He warned that it could backfire on the CHP if it holds back criticism against Erdoğan, but Özel has not done so yet.

Meanwhile, Özel took a tough stand against Erdoğan on Wednesday, stating that there would not be a softening or normalization of politics while elected mayors were replaced by those appointed by the government, demonstrations were prevented, and there was no compliance with the constitution, and the constitutional court, Hurriyet reported.

On the same day, Erdoğan defended the removal of a Kurdish mayor who was accused of working with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group in Turkey that Ankara, Washington, and the EU have classified as a terrorist organization. “Anyone who respects the red lines of the law and our democracy and does not deviate from legitimacy can freely engage in politics in this country if there is no legal obstacle,” Erdoğan stated, according to the Duvar news website.

Ozel rejects a new constitution

So far, Özel has rejected the idea of supporting a new constitution. “If the ruling party abides by the current constitution, we would get closer to discussing a new one. We are far off from that point at the moment,” he told Reuters last month. He has also raised the possibility of early elections, putting Erdoğan under pressure.

Ünlühisarcıklı also believed that Erdoğan was trying to embolden the CHP leader so that he may want to run as president.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Ozgur Ozel and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu attend a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, January 5, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya/File Photo)

Both the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoğlu, and the mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, polled as more popular figures, and the fact neither of them was the candidate in last year’s presidential election is seen as a key reason why the CHP lost.

Aydin Sezer, a foreign policy analyst based in Ankara, agreed that Erdoğan was trying to create a power struggle within the CHP to empower Özel so that he would consider running for president. He also believed Erdoğan’s top priority was to change the constitution so he could run for president again.

Sezer told The Media Line that the public’s discontent over the economy and the poor results of the local elections pushed Erdoğan to contact the opposition. “The old policies of escalation will not be beneficial for him,” Sezer stated

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