Turkish opposition piles pressure on Erdogan ahead of elections

Turkish opposition parties are increasing their cooperation to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party at elections to be held by 2023.

As opinion polls show backing for Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in decline, six opposition parties held a third meeting on Tuesday with the aim of agreeing a shared set of principles by the year-end, Reuters said late last week.

The attempt at unity to confront the government is unprecedented in Turkey, said Murat Yetkin, a well-known journalist and political commentator who served as Ankara bureau chief of Turkish language newspaper Radikal and editor in chief of the Hurriyet Daily News.

Public support for Erdogan is falling due to the country’s economic troubles - the lira hit a latest record low against the dollar on Friday - criticism of his government’s handling of a recent spate of forest fires and floods, corruption and growing authoritarianism.

The AKP has around 31-33 percent of the vote compared with 42.6 percent at parliamentary elections in 2018, Reuters said citing opinion polls. Erdogan's far-right partners – the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has an 8-9 percent share, less than the 10 percent voter threshold required to enter parliament.

The opposition talks focus on a goal of returning the country to a parliamentary system of government – Erdogan acquired vast presidential powers in 2018 – and to identify shared principles, rather than agree on a common presidential candidate, Reuters said, citing participants.

The parties have agreed to focus on the independence of the judiciary, media and academia, laws governing elections and political parties, and boosting democracy and the separation of powers, said Bahadir Erdem, deputy chairman of the Good Party (IP).

“These six parties coming together is giving people hope. Instead of divisiveness, there is togetherness, uniting on common ground” rather than the polarization of the past few years, Erdem told Reuters.

The presidential system is “dragging Turkey to the precipice”, said Muharrem Erkek, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Reuters reported.

“Citizens’ problems are worsening under this one-man system… A strengthened parliamentary system will inspire confidence,” he said.

Bulent Turan, a senior AKP deputy, dismissed the negotiations on returning Turkey to a parliamentary system of government as “reactionary”. The new system worked well and has led to a reduction in political instability, he said.

Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister who left the AKP and formed the rival Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), has become one of the main critics of Erdogan's style of government.

Ministers in Erdogan's administration used to sign blank sheets of paper to be filled in by more senior officials, Babacan said at the weekend, according to the Diken newspaper. He left his position as deputy prime minister in August 2015, departed the AKP in 2019 citing “deep differences” over the party’s direction, and formed DEVA last year.

Erdogan's government must abide by the principles of law and justice if it wants to resolve Turkey’s economic problems, which include high inflation, Babacan said.

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