November 23, 2019
- President Erdogan’s offer seeks to splinter opposition, rival party chief alleges
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a newly built mosque in Aegean city of Izmir. (AP)
By Arab News
ANKARA – Claims that a high-ranking member of Turkey’s main opposition had been encouraged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to seek leadership of the party have sparked a war of words between the rival political forces.
A column in Turkey’s leading daily Sozcu claimed that the politician from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main secular opposition, visited Erdogan in his palace on Nov. 9.
The columnist claimed that Erdogan urged the CHP official to stand for party leadership and promised help if his proposal was accepted.
Despite mounting political gossip, the name of the politician remains a secret.
However, the claims triggered a heated row between the opposition and government with CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accusing Turkey’s president of seeking to splinter the CHP, which remains the government’s main electoral rival.
“Erdogan, who speaks about everything, keeps silent on this matter. I’m asking him loud and clearly: Is this story true or false?” Kilicdaroglu said.
But Fahrettin Altun, the president’s communications director, denied the claims of a secret meeting, saying that “Erdogan, in his 43 years in politics, has never intervened in the internal affairs of another party.”
Gursel Tekin, a leading CHP parliamentarian, believes that no such meeting was held.
“The presidential palace is trying to change the agenda through such artificial allegations. It is baseless,” he told Arab News.
“If Kilicdaroglu is aware of such a meeting, he should fire that person. We will never let anyone break up our party.”
Tekin described the allegations as a “gossip mechanism” to cover the economic challenges facing the government.
“ There are 8.5 million unemployed people in Turkey. About 500,000 people in Istanbul could not pay their water bill. These problems are never talked about. “
Gursel Tekin, CHP parliamentarian
“There are 8.5 million unemployed people in Turkey. About 500,000 people in Istanbul couldn’t pay their water bill. These problems are never talked about. Instead the attention of people is diverted to gossip about who entered the palace,” he said.
Many observers believe Turkey’s next general election will take place well before the scheduled 2023 date, and such debates are often seen as maneuvers in advance of a poll.
According to a recent survey by Socio-Political Field Research Center, if a general election was held now, only three political parties would pass the electoral threshold: The ruling AKP with 34.6 percent of the vote, CHP with 25 percent, and the pro-Kurdish HDP with 9.2 percent.
In a public address on Friday, Erdogan rejected claims of the meeting and called on Kilicdaroglu to offer proof or resign as CHP leader.
Seren Selvin Korkmaz, co-founder and executive director of the independent IstanPol Institute in Istanbul, said the dispute of the alleged palace meeting shows the limited capacity of the opposition to set the policy agenda.
“The CHP is notorious for its internal power struggles, so is more prone to this counter-attack by the government or any other opponent,” she told Arab News.
Korkmaz believes the debate is a part of a government tactic that began with the military incursion into northern Syria.
“The government began to gain a psychological advantage that they lost with the municipal elections. The AKP and Erdogan have worked hard to build and sustain a nationalist coalition around the party since 2015,” she said.
She said that the opposition has failed to establish a credible strategic stance against AKP policies.
The decision by Turkey’s previously fragmented opposition parties to join forces behind the CHP was a major factor in AKP’s defeat in key cities such as Istanbul and Ankara in the March local elections.
Meanwhile, the opposition front is expanding with new political parties on the horizon.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and one-time economy chief Ali Babacan are expected to form parties by the end of the year in a bid to capture constituencies from the AKP’s electoral base.