“We’ll think about that later,” is the response Meral Akşener gave when asked whether she would support President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu if they came head to head in the elections, veteran journalist and columnist Emin Çölaşan wrote in the Sözcü newspaper on Sunday.
The leaders of the six-party Nation Alliance, led by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), gathered on Thursday and signed a joint declaration that they have agreed on their presidential candidate, who would be made public on Monday. But reports emerged straight after that meeting that it would be the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who was to be named as the joint candidate for the opposition.
Akşener, leader of the Good Party, who seemed nervous when leaving the meeting, went to the party headquarters and there held meetings with party officials. On Friday, to the surprise of many, she held a press conference declaring that the Good Party would not bow down to decisions imposed by others, using harsh words against leaders who had been her partners against the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan only a day before.
The only woman leader in the opposition alliance expressed her rejection of Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy, saying that polls suggest the CHP leader will likely lose the election. In a move that is not customary in Turkey’s politics, she called the CHP-elected metropolitan mayors of İstanbul and Ankara to take responsibility and declare their candidacy. Both mayors declined Akşener’s offer on late Friday.
The CHP has been wary of naming metropolitan mayors of Turkey’s largest provinces’ mayors as presidential candidates, as that would result in their mayoral seats being filled by someone from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which holds a majority in both municipal assemblies.
Moreover, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of İstanbul, was sentenced to more than two years in prison and banned from politics by a Turkish court in December. The decision has been appealed, but any decision of a higher court against the mayor in coming weeks could force him to quit the election race if he is nominated as the opposition’s candidate.
Meanwhile, Mansur Yavaş, the mayor of Ankara, comes from a far-right background, and will be less likely to secure Kurdish votes, which will be crucial in determining Turkey’s next president in elections scheduled to be held on 14 May.
Akşener’s move on Friday has further complicated Turkey’s already puzzling political scene, with many wondering about the Good Party leader’s next steps.
The opposition leaders of the remaining five political parties will gather on Monday to declare their joint candidate officially. While some argue that Akşener might still join them, such a reverse move seems unlikely given the rushed manner of her split from the alliance.
The Good Party will then either name someone from its ranks as presidential candidate, possibly Akşener herself, or will seek to form a new alliance with some fringe political parties.
According to Turkey’s election system, a presidential candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the vote to declare victory in the first round. If no candidate obtains a simple majority, then run-off elections are held between the two candidates who receive the highest shares of votes in the first round.
If the opposition parties do not field a joint candidate, it is more likely that none of the candidates will secure 50 percent of the votes in the first round of presidential elections. Many expect that, in that case, Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu will come head to head in the second round.
Since Friday, many commentators have been reflecting on what Akşener will do if that scenario comes to pass.
According to Çölaşan, one of her party officials asked Akşener which candidate the Good Party would support if Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan rivals each other in presidential elections.
“We’ll think about that later,” Çölaşan quoted Akşener as replying.
“With her latest decision the lady has managed to shoot not only herself in the foot but also her party,” Çölaşan said of the current situation.
Meanwhile, the statements of some Good Party officials have also escalated rumours about possible support for Erdoğan in the second round of the presidential elections.
Erhan Usta, deputy chair of the Good Party’s parliamentary group, said during a television programme on Saturday that Erdoğan will win the elections in the first round if the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) does not field a candidate.
Usta was also asked whether his party would support Kılıçdaroğlu in a possible second round of presidential elections. “I can’t say anything about that,” he replied.
HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said on Saturday that the party would take responsible decisions to meet the demands of the people of Turkey for democracy, equality, justice, freedom and peace.
From previous statements of party officials, it is known that the HDP strongly objects to the idea of Yavaş as a candidate, but leaves the door open to supporting Kılıçdaroğlu or İmamoğlu.