Just a few months ago, the AKP government, led by President Erdoğan, could not find concrete solutions to the economic crisis in Turkey and take any action to improve the living conditions of its citizens. It was challenging to convince the public of its growth-oriented economic model based on low-interest rates. Although different polling companies reported different percentages, they all showed a growing group of undecided voters who were breaking away from the government.
In this period, the opposition, which had the psychological vantage in politics, was announcing principled positions through six-party meetings. The opposition's collaboration was exalting the society. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was striking the agenda with the corruption-related videos he posted on social media in the middle of the night. Although Kılıçdaroğlu's economic promises, which resonated with the public, were implemented by the government, Kılıçdaroğlu was taking the credit.
İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener was highlighting the vital problems of citizens with her visits to shopkeepers and setting the agenda with her speeches at group meetings. The rallies organised by the CHP and the İYİ Party, as well as the DEVA Party, brought together masses in different Anatolian cities demanding a change of government and boosted the morale of those in favour of a change. In the eyes of the society and international public, it was almost certain that the government would change in the 2023 elections, and there were even warnings to the opposition not to get complacent.
The change in the government's position and the return of swing voters
President Erdoğan shifted for the first time from the position of a leader who denied hardship in June to a leader who acknowledged the problems and took steps to solve them. In this period, which started with an interim increase in the minimum wage, steps such as increasing social benefits and starting a social housing project were taken. The EYT (retirement age victims) regulation and ‘salary increases that will not crush the inflation’ were promised.
Opinion polls do not show that opposition voters are turning toward the government, but they do show that swing voters who broke away from the AKP have started to turn toward the AKP again. In June 2022, a Metropoll Research poll showed that 55% of voters who voted for the AKP in the last election thought that the economy was poorly managed. The percentage of AKP voters who said ‘the economy is being managed well’ was 42.1%. The same poll shows that only three months later, in September 2022, the percentage of AKP voters who were satisfied with the management of the economy rose to 68.7%, while the percentage of those who were not dropped to 27.3%.
Meanwhile, the opposition, which had been on the rise for a long time, seems to have entered a period of stagnation.
The six-party alliance appears to be stagnating
The six parties that have agreed on a transition to a strengthened parliamentary system have repeatedly expressed their intention to field a joint candidate, but have not named one. The opposition, which has voiced the problematic aspects of the system and prepared an alternative model, has not clarified how the country will be governed under the new system. Under the current system, the president, who will be elected as the head of the executive, is the key to how the country will be governed, but there is no candidate; therefore, no governing program. There are no common and definite policies on foreign policy, social policies, or economic management, only statements of principled consensus.
The fact that there is no consensus on a candidate just months before the election, and that the parties are sending implicit or explicitly harsh messages to one another, may raise questions about the opposition's capacity to jointly govern the country, especially among the decisive group of voters characterised as swing voters. There is uncertainty about what Turkey would look like if the opposition wins the elections. It is difficult to convince people who are not already convinced of change to accept a risky and uncertain change.
The İYİ Party climbed up in the polls for a long time and moved to the centre-right. However, to maintain its claim to govern, it needs to reach out to new voter groups. The DEVA Party, the Gelecek (Future) Party, the Saadet (Felicity) Party, and the Democrat Party are not yet getting as many votes from the ruling electorate as they target.
The CHP, which has made a meaningful effort to break the ice with conservatives with Kılıçdaroğlu's halalisation policy, has not yet achieved its goal of becoming the first party. While the disinformation law, which was interpreted as an attempt to silence the social opposition before the last elections, was passed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Kılıçdaroğlu met with scientists and students in the US instead of making a speech from the rostrum of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, leading to comments that the CHP is way off beam. While it would be possible to reach the increasingly impoverished people with social democratic promises from a class perspective, Kılıçdaroğlu is stuck in identity politics with promises such as legal guarantees for headscarves. He is competing with the government on identity. Despite his theoretical criticism of neoliberalism, he has yet to make the CHP the first party in the provinces and shantytowns.
Kılıçdaroğlu also shows that he does not ignore these critiques with his message ‘Wait for November. Wait for Mr. Kemal.’ And explains in detail why he was in the US while the disinformation law was being discussed in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Kılıçdaroğlu shows that he does not ignore these critiques.
A joint candidate may already be announced
If the six-party alliance wants to turn the wind back in its favour, it can try to announce a common name as a candidate and a common governance program with a big campaign. If all six parties can be seen to be united around both the candidate and the program, it may be possible to talk about a tangible change for people.
A joint communication strategy can already send clear and strong messages to all segments of the society on economy, security, freedoms, and foreign policy. If the opposition is serious about nominating a common candidate and governing the country together, it should be able to remove the question marks in the minds of the public about the change.
However, time is being wasted with principled position papers and confusing messages against an opponent with a clear name and program. The MHP's use of the slogan ‘The right candidate is clear, the decision is clear’ in its Anatolian rallies shows that the People's Alliance (Millet İttifakı) will try to consolidate its voters with the argument that the opposition will bring uncertainty.
According to the results of the research conducted by Yöneylem, the most common answer to the question ‘Which party can solve Turkey's problems?’ is ‘none’ with 36%. In other words, society oscillates between despair and conviction.
As Bekir Ağırdır writes, ‘Most of the society is waiting for the opposition, they want to hear a voice, a word, but we will see if the opposition wants to listen to a new voice, a new word first, and then establish a new voice.’