The debate in 10 questions on Turkish politics

A list of 10 questions, addressed last week by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in his address to the caucus of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) , sets the framework for the 2023 Election Campaign.

Above all, Erdoğan’s last question – whether the main opposition leader has the guts to run for president next year – represented a direct challenge to Kılıçdaroğlu and the opposition’s “table for six”. and, by extension, reflected a shift in government discourse. Some commentators claim that Erdoğan “chosen” the CHP chairman as his opponent by asking these 10 questions. My feeling, however, is that the president will criticize Kılıçdaroğlu in new ways whether or not he chooses to run for office.

I wrote in recent weeks that Kılıçdaroğlu could no longer resist running for president next year and that his failure would be costly for his own party at this point. Hence Erdoğan’s last question and his view that the CHP chairman will win the nomination from the opposition bloc. Clearly, Kılıçdaroğlu could exploit this deluge of criticism to establish himself as the opposition’s co-candidate, since he has already undermined his own party’s presidential candidates.

That the main opposition leader recently mentioned his Alevi origin, complaining that his identity was being turned into a subject of political debate, even if the government has never raised this issue, is linked to his ambition to run. It almost seems that Kılıçdaroğlu wants to engage in this debate himself – just to show the CHP and the “table for six” that his identity is no obstacle to his candidacy. For the record, it is a perfectly understandable tactical gesture. Unlike in 2018, however, Kılıçdaroğlu’s failure to contest next year’s elections is likely to fuel criticism that he continues to shy away from combat and instead wants to pull the strings through the proxy of the “table for six”.

Four main questions

Erdoğan’s four main issues to Kılıçdaroğlu were in turn related to counter-terrorism, NATO, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea – in other words, national security and foreign policy. These questions are closely linked to three recent actions of the Turkish government: the defense of Turkey’s national interests from Greece, the denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Turkish NATO allies vis-à-vis terrorism during the membership applications from Sweden and Finland, and an impending counter-terrorist operation in northern Syria against the YPG, the Syrian component of the PKK.

Obviously, these three questions will be at the top of Turkey‘s political agenda this summer – and, perhaps, until the 2023 elections. of the “table for six”. Instead, it will require concrete decisions. If the opposition bloc adopts a certain approach to Turkey’s fight against the YPG that aims not to antagonize the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – the political wing of the PKK – it will be criticized for its apparent lack of commitment to national issues.

Meanwhile, the rest of Erdoğan’s questions concerned Kılıçdaroğlu’s engagement in “lies, slander, incitement and threats”, his ties to foreign powers, and whether he was ready to expel politicians, who committed frauds or have links with terrorist groups, its partying.

Vague answer

Kılıçdaroğlu’s responses were intended to signal that he was more nationalistic than Erdoğan. To that end, he made some accusations about counter-terrorism and foreign policy. While the main opposition leader condemned terrorism in general, he refrained from mentioning the YPG and the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) specifically. He also provided a vague answer about his involvement in cross-border military operations: “We will support the good ones and we will not support the bad ones.” Even though Erdoğan’s question was quite specific, this answer suits the CHP chairman, who voted against Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and Syria in parliament.

Arguing that the government was exploiting foreign policy for domestic policy, Kılıçdaroğlu urged Erdoğan to “take (necessary) action regarding occupied and militarized islands in the Aegean Sea if you dare.” Not wanting to antagonize Western governments or the YPG, Kılıçdaroğlu thus wrongly presented himself as a “hawk” vis-à-vis Greece.

In response to Erdoğan’s questions about domestic politics and the main opposition party, Kılıçdaroğlu stuck to his all too familiar policy of lying.

Tense period

The back and forth around Erdoğan’s 10 questions suggests that the election campaign will be tense and rich in exchanges. The various arguments related to foreign policy, national security, economics and domestic politics will also be virtually inseparable. The distinction between “us” and “them” – which is part of the nature of politics – will manifest itself in many areas.

The various political parties will resort to polarization in an attempt to consolidate their respective base. At the same time, they will develop positive rhetoric to inspire hope in new voters – especially the young and undecided. We will therefore observe the two phenomena simultaneously. Ultimately, whoever comes up with the most successful mix will receive the most votes. While the CHP leadership is tapping into the “Gezi spirit” to shore up its base, the People’s Alliance will oppose foreign ties.

Ultimately, it would seem that many parties will criticize the West in different ways within the framework of “true nationalism”.

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