With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement of the early presidential elections to May 14, and the subsequent official steps, Turkey has officially and practically entered the election track, the results of which will apparently be affected by additional factors, foremost of which are electoral alliances.
In the seventies and nineties of the last century, Turkey suffered from government coalitions that have long caused political blockages and economic crises and ended in fall; therefore, they still have a negative resonance, and this was one of the justifications for proposing the presidential system and then approving it in the country.
In theory, according to the ruling party's propaganda, the presidential system was a way to get rid of the coalition organization and a reason for the formation of strong and stable governments, but the need to obtain the votes of 50% of the electorate to win the presidency, and the inability of any single party to do so, pushed towards legally approved electoral alliances.
In 2018, two main coalitions were formed in Turkey: the ruling People's Alliance of the Justice and Development Party, the Nationalist Movement and the Grand Union, and the opposition People's Alliance made up of the Republican, Good, Felicity and Democratic People's Party. The parties in the two alliances cooperated in the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections and then in the 2019 municipal elections, which were expected to be temporary.
However, the existing presidential system has again imposed the idea of alliances before the upcoming elections, which have long been described as sensitive and pivotal, and contributed to this by the increasing polarization, economic conditions, the repercussions of the Corona pandemic and other challenges.
Both of the country's two main parties (Justice and Development Party and Republican People) and their candidates Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu have sought to present an image of popular and partisan rally behind them, representing large segments of citizens and voters.
The opposition People's Alliance has reconvened, adding Ahmet Davutoglu's Future Party and Ali Babacan's Democracy and Progress parties, splinter parties from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), calling itself the "Six-Party Table." For more than 12 years, the table held regular meetings, during which it agreed to return the country – if won – to the parliamentary system, as well as on the political program of the supposed next government, and finally on the name of its consensus candidate for the presidential elections, Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
On the other hand, the Turkish president also seemed not satisfied with his existing alliance, and therefore sought to expand it by including new parties, so he is engaged in dialogues with parties such as Free Advocacy, Welfare again, the right path and the motherland.
In addition to the two existing alliances, there is also the Alliance of Labor and Freedom, which is made up of left-wing parties led by the HDP, and the Ata Alliance (derived from Ataturk), which includes right-wing parties led by the right-wing anti-refugee Zafar Party.
Gains and Risks
Erdogan and the AKP have so far run in all his previous elections, benefiting from the personal qualities of the president and his party, including charisma, experience, biography and achievements, in addition to the weakness and fragmentation of the opposition. As for the upcoming elections, it seems that all this is no longer enough, important as it is, which has increased the importance of electoral alliances.
Expanding electoral alliances has expected benefits, foremost of which is obtaining the votes of the parties joining the alliance, and in the case of polarization and competition in which it is said that "one vote may make a difference", it is difficult to include any party, no matter how small or poorly present.
On the other hand, both of the country's two main parties (Justice and Development Party and the Republican People's Party) and their candidates Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu seek to present an image of popular and partisan rally behind them, and that they represent large segments of citizens and voters. This was and still is noticeable in the opposition coalition, which includes parties from leftist, nationalist, Islamist, conservative, and liberal backgrounds. The six-party table accused the PJD of becoming a pariah in return for this diversity, which was one of the reasons the ruling party was looking into the possibility of expanding the alliance.
On the other hand, some parties carry a certain symbolism whose importance in the political equation exceeds their size and weight in the street; the two parties that broke away from the Justice and Development Party became major pillars of the opposition alliance because their presidents were Erdogan's comrades and held high positions in the party and government, as well as the Felicity Party because of its representation of the Milli Goros movement or Islamic national opinion.
On the other hand, the Welfare Party again headed by Fatih Erbakan, the son of the late Prime Minister and leader of the National Opinion Movement (Milli Gorç), Necmettin Erbakan, is symbolic in this regard, as well as its rival with the Felicity Party on the Islamist/conservative street. The Free Dawa Party, the Kurdish Islamist, is also particularly important for its influence in the Kurdish-majority areas vis-à-vis the democratic peoples, despite its very weak presence on the street.
The involvement of as many parties as possible in alliances helps to satisfy the different attitudes of voters, which helps to increase the participation rate in the elections and the chances of each alliance separately.
Here, alliances seem to serve the interests of large and small parties, but to varying degrees and from somewhat different angles: large parties, along with presidential candidates, are more interested in presidential elections, while smaller parties focus on parliamentary elections. The electoral law that was amended last year almost empties electoral alliances of their usefulness in parliamentary elections, as it requires any party to exceed the threshold of 7% of votes throughout Turkey to enter parliament, so the only opportunity for small parties to enter it is to nominate some of their leaders on the lists of large parties, which is expected to be the return that these parties will demand in exchange for joining alliances or supporting presidential candidates.
However, electoral alliances bring not only gains, but also risks, as alliances with ideologically different people can be portrayed or portrayed as putting interests ahead of values, potentially damaging parties and attacking the other side, and the damage will be doubled in the event of loss.
On the other hand, there are demands and conditions from some parties to engage in alliances or support the presidential candidate, and some of them can be considered concessions, in addition to the fact that their mere proposal may provoke controversy and confusion for candidates.
The inclusion of a party in any alliance may provoke the anger or objection of other parties that disagree with it ideologically or for other reasons, which may threaten the chances of the candidate and the alliance in the upcoming elections, a threat that exists at the level of the leadership of the parties as well as at the level of their constituency, whose voting trends can not be fully guaranteed.
Moreover, the inclusion of small parties in either alliance means the nomination of some of their leaders on the lists of large parties, specifically the Justice and Development Party and the Republican People, which means a decrease in the number of deputies of these two parties in the next parliament, which is important given the importance of the composition of the next parliament, and its sensitivity increases given that electoral alliances are not necessarily permanent but rather a temporary cooperation path, which means that the number of parliamentary seats that will go to small parties is not guaranteed to return in the future.
The divergence of priorities for the parties (the presidency for the large parties and the parliament for the small) means that the latter will not operate its party and organizational machine as required to support the presidential candidate, and its support will be closer to the initial announcement than to field work.
Finally, there will be competition between the two grand coalitions for the narrative and trying to convince voters of it. The ruling coalition will say it is a homogeneous alliance of values versus the dispersion of the opposition that meets interests. The opposition coalition will say it is diverse and reflects all of Turkey, while the ruling coalition is limited to only a segment of the population.
In conclusion, electoral alliances seem necessary in the upcoming elections for the aforementioned reasons and detail, but they are not a purely useful tool and may even have some harms, risks or sensitivities. Therefore, these alliances often prefer to obtain the support of additional parties without formally joining the coalition, and this is most evident in the opposition coalition.
Some of these alliances are not guaranteed outcomes; only the results of the May 14 elections will answer the winner-loser dialectic between and even within alliances, where a debate arises about who uses whom? And who benefits from alliances more large or small?
The impact of alliances on parliamentary elections, cooperation mechanisms and other contents need to be detailed in a forthcoming article hopefully.