The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) recently presented a report titled “The Presidential Regime is downgrading Turkey” based on data from international institutions.
Data from the last two years in Turkey points to a steady decrease in almost every aspect of a functioning, healthy democracy, such as freedom of speech, quality of education, gender and income equality, and the rule of law. It’s no surprise that society has become unhappier compared to 2017.
CHP’s intention was to show how far Turkey’s rank dropped after the system changed. In truth, the downfall of many aspects of democracy started before the presidential regime was introduced. Society became unhappier and more insecure due to economic stagnation and incorrect social policies in the past year.
Surely the AKP-MHP alliance is responsible for this great social, economic and political collapse. But was the opposition doing its job well to prevent such a huge downfall? And is there hope to make some change under Erdoğan's rule?
When one begins to criticize the opposition, the first reaction is “Don’t be unfair.” Indeed, any criticism of the opposition leads to ecstatic applause led by the AKP and President Erdoğan, who takes joy in crushing and demeaning his opponents.
However, there were moments when the oppositional parties could interfere and enact some change. One of them was the referendum on the political system in April 2017. People tend to forget that Erdoğan won by 51.41 percent thanks to the Election Board counting the invalid, unstamped 1 million ballots in his favor.
The opposition parties won the vote in big cities and people flocked to the streets in protest. But CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ leader Akşener asked people to stay at home, and they accepted the result. The HDP, left alone as always, organized a few small protests. In short, the shift to the much-debated presidential regime was made under unlawful, unfair and untransparent circumstances, but the opposition accepted it quietly.
The past one and a half years under the “new” system also showed that in matters of “national security,” the opposition synchronized themselves with the AKP-MHP alliance. For example, the opposition, with the exception of the HDP, gave their approval for military intervention into northern Iraq and Syria.
Today, the motion for deploying troops in Libya will be voted on in the parliament. Kılıçdaroğlu says they will not back it. This might be the first time they don’t act in line with the AKP-MHP alliance on national matters.
Although President Erdoğan has great power, the opposition’s hands are not totally tied. The last local elections showed that it is possible to succeed, even in rigged elections. But opposition leaders need to be more active and determined. If they dare to make a stance on a subject, they can get people mobilized.
One recent example is the Kanal Istanbul debate. In the last days of 2019, people queued to make their objections to the project. This was possible because the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, decided to not only criticize and expose wrongdoings, but to take some action. İYİ Party leader Akşener also made her support official.
Buses were organized for people to access the two local government offices in Istanbul where the objections could be made. Thousands of people waited for hours in cold weather and under heavy rain. The mood resembled the 2019 local elections in which people slept on ballot boxes in order to secure their vote count. It’s amazing how people are still resisting for the future of their city, like they did in Gezi in 2013.
What next? Erdoğan is adamant about “getting it done” when it comes to the canal project, but he will have the headache of dismissing the objections. He’ll probably proceed as usual, which means that he won’t take people’s opinion into account. He will probaby send construction equipment to start to dig immediately.
The question is what the opposition will do next. Do they have a good strategy about resisting further? Or will they let it go when their party leaders tell them to step down, be calm, and not get into a fight?
Istanbul is getting most of the attention, but Ankara’s mayor Mansur Yavaş is garnering a lot of support. In his ultra serious, unrelenting style, he has bypassed all attacks so far. The latest one was a fight with a notorious CHP figure, Sinan Aygün, accusing Yavaş of corruption. Aygün will be discharged from the CHP.
It’s high time for the opposition, especially the CHP, to get rid of parasites like Aygün and to support its local politicians, who are giving hope to unhappy citizens in Turkey. If they can show more support for the HDP's elected mayors, who have been detained one by one, 2020 might actually be a year of hope.