Last week, the government’s stripping of parliamentary statuses and subsequent arrest of three MPs hit the opposition by surprise. As the removal of MPs from parliament is clearly unlawful and unconstitutional, the move has been referred to as a “coup.”
Yet the opposition’s reactions were limited and scattered. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and İYİ Party leaders only made statements on behalf of CHP MP Enis Berberoğlu. Once again, MPs from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were not mentioned.
While Berberoğlu was released due to COVID-19 on the day following his arrest, HDP MP Leyla Güven was released three days later. The other HDP MP who was arrested, Musa Farisoğulları, remains in prison.
It is no surprise that İYİ Party, which is made up of politicians hailing from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is distancing itself and even approving anti-HDP moves. Yet the main opposition party CHP also responds tepidly and fearfully when it comes to collaborating with, or supporting the HDP.
In fact, the leader of the CHP had personally endorsed the constitutional change in parliament that the AKP brought in May 2016. The CHP’s support in parliament back then paved the way for the AKP to strip HDP MPs of their statuses and send them to jail. HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, along with a number of HDP politicians, were jailed after that.
In the past four years, the CHP and İYİ Party have refused to openly collaborate with the HDP. Still, when it came to the referendum and local elections, they managed to join forces with it.
President Erdoğan and his ally, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, have used every opportunity to bash the CHP, accusing them of being “terrorists” and “PKK-Gülen lovers”. The CHP formed an alliance with İYİ Party and Saadet Party in the 2018 general elections, excluding the HDP.
Not only is the CHP fearful of the regime’s criminalization methods, so are secular voters. The majority of CHP voters believe the HDP cannot distance itself from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
However, the opposition cannot win unless they join forces. After the latest decision to send MPs to jail, similar cases could loom on the horizon.
No matter how much the CHP tries to ignore the HDP, no matter how much it restrains itself from “getting into trouble,” the AKP-MHP alliance always finds a way to criminalize it. In fact, polls show that the CHP has not gained points through its passive politics. Around 40 percent of voters claim to be indecisive, when asked whom they would vote for.
For years, the opposition parties, including the HDP, claimed that the AKP would lose because of its authoritarian, fascist policies, and - especially – its flimsy economic performance. While the AKP might be losing ground, Erdoğan has managed to stay on top so far.
Erdoğan’s primary goal is to keep the oppositional forces split and not face the massive loss of the June 2015 elections once again, which saw the AKP lose its parliamentary majority. The same applies to the local elections of 2019, where the AKP lost its grip on all the country’s major cities. Erdoğan will resort to any means available to remain president, for good.
The opposition parties need to join their forces openly, bravely and agree on basic principles. They need to cease merely defending themselves but act - no matter how difficult and impossible it may seem.