Opposition roadmap for undoing Erdoğan’s legacy

Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (R), IYI Party Meral Akşener (2ndL), Felicity Party (Saadet) Temel Karamollaoğlu (L), Democratic Party (DP) Gültekin Uysal (3rdR), Future Party (Gelecek) Ahmet Davutoğlu (3rdL), and Democracy and Progress (DEVA) Party Ali Babacan (2ndR), belonging to the Turkish opposition alliance called National Alliance, attend a meeting to present their program, in Ankara, on January 30, 2023. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkey’s multi-faceted opposition alliance wants to undo President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-decade legacy of highly centralized and religiously conservative rule.

Here is a look at its plan of action should it win the May 14 parliamentary and presidential vote.

End ‘one-man regime’

Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has portrayed his six-party alliance, which includes liberals, nationalists and religious conservatives, as a force for democratic change.

The 74-year-old former civil servant has pledged to “bring democracy to this country by changing the one-man regime.”

In its 240-page program, the alliance vows to abandon the presidential system Erdoğan introduced after winning a hard-fought constitutional referendum in 2017.

The opposition wants to restore a parliamentary system under which lawmakers elect a prime minister and have oversight over ministries.

The president would be limited to a single seven-year term.

“Changing the political system will not be easy,” said Bertil Oder, a professor of constitutional law at İstanbul’s Koç University.

Such changes require a three-fifth majority in parliament, which the opposition will struggle to win on May 14, he pointed out.

Release prisoners

Kılıçdaroğlu says his first order of business will be to issue a decree releasing some of the most high-profile opposition figures jailed under Erdoğan.

These include the philanthropist Osman Kavala and the Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, whose freedom has been long-sought by the West.

The opposition pledges to restore “independent and impartial” courts, which Erdoğan stacked with allies after surviving a bloody coup attempt in 2016.

But the alliance, which includes the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party, has said little about Kurds, whose elected mayors in Turkey’s southeast have all been either stripped of their jobs or jailed.

It also wants to revive freedom of expression and give independence to the media, which fell under the near-total control of the government and its business allies.

“You will be able to criticize me very easily,” Kılıçdaroğlu once quipped, pledging to abolish the criminal offence of “insulting the president.”

Defend ‘all women’

Representing the traditionally secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Kılıçdaroğlu has worked hard to gain the trust of religiously conservative women who wear the headscarf.

Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to make the right to stay veiled in public guaranteed by law, to show he has no intention of reversing religious freedoms introduced by Erdoğan.

“We will defend the rights of all women,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, vowing to “respect everyone’s beliefs, lifestyles and identities,” including those of Turkey’s LGBTQ community.

Erdoğan, by contrast, calls LGBTQ people “perverse”.

Kılıçdaroğlu also wants to rejoin the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty aimed at combating gender-based violence from which Turkey withdrew under Erdoğan’s orders in 2021.

Restore economic orthodoxy

The opposition vows an immediate return to economic orthodoxy and a break with Erdoğan’s “Turkish economy model.”

Erdoğan’s refusal to fight inflation by raising interest rates — linked in part to his belief in Islamic rules against usury — has sparked the worst economic crisis of his rule.

The official annual inflation rate touched 85 percent last year. Independent economists believe the real rate could have been twice as high, erasing most of the gains of a new middle class created during Erdoğan’s first decade in power.

But a return to prosperity might take time, requiring the resuscitation of a state institution that became emaciated during Erdoğan’s era of centralized control.

“Whoever wins the election, Turkey’s economy is unlikely to experience a quick recovery,” said Erdal Alçin, a professor of international economics at Germany’s Konstanz University.

Make peace

The opposition is aware that Turkey has irritated its NATO allies by forging a privileged relationship with Russia since 2016. It wants to restore trust with the West while maintaining a “balanced dialogue” with Moscow to end the war in Ukraine.

Ahmet Ünal Çeviköz, the head of international relations in Kılıçdaroğlu’s party, is also pushing for “full membership of the European Union,” which has long remained on hold.

But the priority, said Çeviköz, is on reconciling with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — an essential condition for the “voluntary” return of 3.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

© Agence France-Presse

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!