Turkey’s opposition neared a deal on Monday in which the right-wing IYI Party could return to an alliance that it quit three days ago, opening the way to mounting a united challenge to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections set for May.
Under a new proposal following a weekend of political intrigue, two popular mayors would serve as vice presidents should the opposition win in the presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.
With polls showing a close race, the vote is the biggest challenge Erdogan has faced in two decades in power.
IYI, the second-biggest in the alliance of six parties, quit the bloc on Friday after leader Meral Aksener rejected the expected choice of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as presidential candidate.
Instead, Aksener proposed that either Ekrem Imamoglu or Mansur Yavas, mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, be the candidate. She said opinion polls showed they would win against Erdogan by a large margin.
Hours before the five remaining parties in the alliance were set to announce Kilicdaroglu as their candidate, the two mayors held a brief meeting with Aksener who pitched her proposal.
Aksener put forward an “inclusive” proposal, IYI spokesperson Kursad Zorlu told reporters.
“She has conveyed the proposal that the two mayors serve as executive vice presidents,” Zorlu said. “Our leader will convey this proposal to Kilicdaroglu in the coming moments.”
The suggestion was accepted by the CHP, a senior party official told Reuters.
The opposition deal-making comes two months before the election and a month after earthquakes devastated the country’s south, killing more than 45,000 people and leaving millions homeless.
Erdogan had seen his popularity dip amid a cost-of-living crisis even before the earthquake. But despite widespread criticism of the government’s initial response to the disaster, pollsters on Friday said Erdogan and the AK Party (AKP) appeared to have largely retained their support.
At stake in the elections is the direction of a country which Erdogan has increasingly shaped to his vision of a pious, conservative society and assertive regional player.
Opponents have pledged to revoke the powerful executive presidency he created, returning Turkey to parliamentary democracy and restoring independence to a central bank which implemented his call for low interest rates – driving economic growth but crashing the lira and firing up inflation.
The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, whose AKP came to power in 2002. It has cooperated more closely since its success in 2019 in taking control of Istanbul, Ankara and other big cities from the AKP in elections.
“This is a massive political coup against Erdogan and should hand the opposition a decisive win in the first round on May 14,” said Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, an Istanbul-based political and sanctions compliance advisory.