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Turkey’s largest ever grouping of opposition leaders is striving to iron out differences and name a candidate to take on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is looking to extend his two decades in charge in May elections.
Less than half the country’s voters are expected to vote in favor of Erdogan’s AK Party and nationalist ally, recent polling suggests, but those against the status quo are split mainly between a bloc of six opposition groups and a pro-Kurdish party. Bridging gaps will be key to mounting an effective challenge, and the bloc met Thursday to coordinate strategy, according to people familiar with the matter.
Opponents of Erdogan, modern Turkey’s longest-serving ruler, are looking to stem what they see as a slide toward authoritarian one-man rule, with the president having turned the once-ceremonial post into the nexus of executive power. Yet the build up to the vote has been dominated by the worst cost-of-living crisis in two decades, which has disproportionately hit the poor, typically Erdogan’s most stalwart backers.
“Polls highlight voter frustration with inflation, the state of the economy, and Erdogan’s management of the economy over the past few years, but the opposition has miserably failed to capitalize on these factors,” Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of Teneo Intelligence, said in a note on Thursday. “It is an election for Erdogan to lose and not one for the opposition to win.”
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The president has indicated he will bring the election forward by more than one month to May 14, increasing the urgency for opponents to agree on a unified strategy and name a presidential hopeful.
“The opposition might be more unified than in any election over the past 20 years, but its failure as yet to nominate a candidate to face off in the presidential election against Erdogan seems to be counting against it, giving an impression of dithering and weakness,” Tim Ash, emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said in a note. “Much could yet depend on the opposition and their ability to convince voters that they are a credible force, and potentially can be trusted in the government.”
While the opposition bloc has pledged to run the country through consensus in the event of an election win, Erdogan has dismissed the idea as a return to political and economic instability. The president is instead campaigning on the need for continuity in turbulent times.
Opposition leaders have broadly agreed on sharing power and will discuss nominating a presidential candidate in early February, the people familiar with the matter said. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the alliance’s biggest party, has put himself forward. Another strategy may be to field multiple candidates to increase the chances of Erdogan losing his majority, triggering a runoff that may be easier to win, they added.
A major pro-Kurdish party, which is not included in the opposition alliance, has decided to field its own candidate in the first round and could become the kingmaker in a runoff two weeks later.
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Should it emerge victorious, the opposition alliance has reached a tentative agreement to share responsibilities of the executive presidency created by Erdogan, the people said. Some party leaders could serve as deputy presidents and others as members of a presidential advisory board, they said. Each party could get at least one cabinet post and the rest of the ministerial seats will be distributed based on their share of the national vote, the people said.
Meanwhile, the alliance is working to ensure parliamentary representation of four smaller partners, the people said. If successful, the opposition could potentially deny a parliamentary majority to the AK Party and its nationalist ally, the MHP.
(Updates with comments from analyst in fourth paragraph.)
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