Can the Turkish opposition kick out Erdogan?

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 ...

SAYGIN SERDAROGLU/AFP/Getty Images
SAYGIN SERDAROGLU/AFP/Getty Images
SAYGIN SERDAROGLU/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.