Opposition under media spotlight as new party draws near

Turkey’s media this week took us from the halls of power in Ankara, where a ranking opposition figure was accused of colluding with the president, to the seas of the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey and Libya signed an agreement that could have a significant impact in ongoing disputes over maritime boundaries.

Monday’s headlines were dominated by what was widely reported as a crisis in the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), as the party dealt with fallout from a report published the previous week that said one of its senior politicians had held a secret meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Sözcü writer Rahmi Turan’s initial report did not name the CHP politician, but three days later he came out to point the finger at Muharrem İnce, who ran against Erdoğan in last year’s presidential election.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu described the affair as a provocation by the palace; Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist for Hürriyet know to have close ties to the ruling party, said it was an attempt by a faction of the CHP to weaken Kılıçdaroğlu, İnce and Erdoğan. Others saw it as a manufactured crisis designed to provoke factions within the CHP, pointing to the slew of newspapers whose front pages demanded the opposition party “clean up its mess” on Monday.

Some saw the crisis as another display of the lack of direction, factionalism and naivety of the party that is supposed to be the main challenger to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has held power for 18 years. Those who viewed it in those terms would have watched with great interest on Tuesday the interview with Ali Babacan, the former AKP deputy prime minister who won renown helping guide Turkey’s economy during party’s boom years.

Babacan’s plan to launch a new political movement this year is seen by some as having the potential to shake up Turkish politics by stripping votes from the AKP base. Ahval Turkish chief editor Ergun Babahan saw the former deputy prime minister’s first televised interview since quitting the AKP as an assured performance from a politician with the potential to end the Erdoğan era. Others were less positive, with Ahmet Hakan, the new chief editor of Hürriyet, calling it a mediocre appearance and suggesting that Babahan was fronting the new party on behalf of former President Abdullah Gül, another sidelined AKP veteran.

The interview with Babacan aired on HaberTürk, a channel whose owner Ciner Group is considered friendly to the Turkish government. This meant that Turks who tuned in were treated to a relatively rare sight: a respected figure challenging and criticising government policies on prime time television. The former deputy prime minister said the AKP had “led Turkey down a dark tunnel.”

This was not reflected on the front pages of most newspapers, though, which instead kept up their attack on the CHP on Wednesday, with Yeni Şafak calling the CHP crisis a “game of thrones”.

The main opposition party did have other business on its mind this week, though, including a report presented to parliament on the heavily subsidised nuclear power plant that Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom is building in Akkuyu on Turkey’s southern coast.

According to Ahval correspondent Zulfikar Doğan’s rundown of the CHP’s findings, energy from the Akkuyu plant will cost Turkey three times the price set by the country’s energy regulator, while the terms of the deal mean it will be owned and operated by Russia for 15 years, deepening Ankara’s dependence on Moscow for that period.

Though Doğan suggests that the south coast power plant shows how Turkey has been reduced to a subservient position to Russia, the newspapers on Friday were more concerned with expansionist moves in the Mediterranean.

Friday’s headlines were all about Turkey’s latest thrust in the sea – a maritime boundary agreement with Libya that placed Turkey’s boundaries a whisker off the Greek island of Crete.

The map published on Turkish media showed boundaries that extended to the south of the island of Cyprus, outraging the Greek and Cypriot governments. But Ankara says the deal with Libya was a riposte against a drive by those two governments to encroach on areas south of Antalya that should rightfully belong in Turkey’s exclusive economic zone.


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.