A few months back, I had a pleasant lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Dupont Circle with representatives of a nascent Turkish political party, TDH. The party billed itself as a Western-oriented alternative to the ruling AKP party — and also as more dynamic and forward-looking than the CHP, the opposition party that has been the traditional home of secular Turks. It turned out to be a short-lived venture: Today, party leader Mustafa Sarigul announced that he was abandoning his plans to establish TDH as an independent political party, and would throw his support behind the CHP is Turkey’s 2011 general election.
Sarigul suggested that international and domestic developments — a reference to Prime Minister Erdogan’s vociferous criticism of Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla disaster and the recent flare-up of Turkish-Kurdish tensions — were the reason TDH leaders had to "act as statesmen and unite" with opposition groups. The real reason, however, probably has more to do with changes in the CHP, and within Turkey’s political climate. After the resignation of CHP leader Deniz Baykal following a sex scandal, his replacement, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has mended bridges with Baykal’s old rivals — including Sarigul.
Just as importantly, the Turkish opposition seems to have gained new life. Two recent polls found that the CHP was polling at its highest level in years, now receiving the support of approximately 30 percent of Turks. There are a variety of possible reasons for this improvement in the party’s fortunes: the new leadership of Kilicdaroglu, Turkish anger that the AKP’s much-celebrated "Kurdish opening" failed to achieve results, discontent over Erdogan’s Middle East adventurism, and double-digit unemployment in a job market that still has not turned the corner following the international recession. Whatever the reason for the CHP’s revival, its newfound strength makes it unlikely that there would be political space for a nascent party such as TDH to establish a foothold.
The 2011 election is still a year away — a lifetime in politics. But it looks like the Turkish opposition is going to enter campaign season unified and energized in a way that must have Erdogan sweating.
David Kenner is the Middle East editor for Foreign Policy.| Passport |