As Turkish economy suffers from high inflation and the devaluation of Turkish lira, the opposition’s hope for replacing long-term serving President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increases. In that sense, Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş’s name recently began to be stated as an ideal candidate. In this piece, I am going to evaluate whether Yavaş could be the opposition’s joint candidate for the 2023 Turkish presidential elections.
The main opposition party in Turkey, the pro-secular and social democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party), under the leadership of its chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, follows a different political strategy in recent years. CHP, due to its historical alienation from the conservative/Islamic masses, tries to divide the governing bloc and to expand its support among the right-wing voters by engaging in electoral cooperation with new parties. Accordingly, CHP first established strong ties with the center-right İYİ Parti (Good Parti) and took the support of the party’s leader Meral Akşener. This was followed by Islamist Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) and center-right Democrat Party’s (Demokrat Parti) inclusion to the electoral bloc Millet İttifakı (Nation Alliance). More recently, two new right-wing parties broke off from AK Parti, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party (Gelecek Partisi) and Ali Babacan’s DEVA Party also joined the bloc of Nation Alliance against the AK Parti-MHP-BBP’s People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) bloc. Nowadays, leaders of these six parties conduct negotiations for choosing the best candidate among the alternatives. Alternatives are limited; CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, CHP’s Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, İYİ Parti leader Meral Akşener, and CHP’s Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş. Recent polls suggest that all of these four candidates would defeat Erdoğan in a potential presidential second-round.
Meral Akşener-Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu-Ekrem İmamoğlu
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu seems like he wants to be the candidate of the bloc due to his long struggle against Erdoğan regime. He said that he would accept the presidential candidacy in case other parties’ leaders propose his name. Until recently, in a potential presidential race, Kılıçdaroğlu was performing poorly against Erdoğan according to polls. However, more recent polls suggest that he could win the presidential election against Erdoğan.
Another potential candidate is CHP’s Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. By making a big surprise in Istanbul in defeating AK Party candidate and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in 2019, İmamoğlu became the new star of Turkish politics in recent years. According to polls, he could easily defeat Erdoğan in a potential second round of presidential elections. However, since the opposition wants a return to parliamentary regime and aims to choose a President who would accept symbolic and limited powers, İmamoğlu might prefer a different career path and try to become the new leader of CHP and new Prime Minister of Turkey.
İYİ Parti (Good Party) leader Meral Akşener already stated that she would not contest in the presidential election and would try to become the new PM. However, polls suggest that she could be a very lucky candidate against Erdoğan.
Yavaş is doing best among the alternatives according to polls
According to polls, the best candidate among the alternatives is CHP’s Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş. Yavaş easily defeats Erdoğan with 52 % of the votes against Erdoğan’s 36 % in a potential second-round according to Istanbul Ekonomi’s 2022 February research. Although Yavaş is not very mediatic and he rarely appears in tv programs, his image and reputation are very good among the public. Now let us look at the life story and political career of Mansur Yavaş.
Mansur Yavaş was born in 1955 in Ankara’s Beypazarı district. He successfully graduated from Istanbul University’s Law Faculty in 1983. Coming from a traditional family, he engaged in ultranationalist circles in his youth. After completing his mandatory military service as a military prosecutor, Yavaş returned to Beypazarı and began practicing law as a private attorney. Yavaş was elected a member of the municipal council of Beypazarı in 1989. He ran unsuccessfully for the office of the mayor of Beypazarı in 1994 from ultranationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party). Yavaş continued his legal practice and council membership until 18 April 1999, when he ran again and was elected mayor from MHP with 51% of the vote. In 2004, he increased his votes (55 %) and was reelected. He did a good job as Beypazarı municipal leader and transformed the underdeveloped district into a touristic destination. In 2009 local elections, he became MHP’s candidate for Ankara municipality but stayed behind AK Parti’s Melih Gökçek and CHP’s Murat Karayalçın with 27 % of the total votes. In 2014, this time he became candidate for Ankara municipality from CHP. Although he increased the party’s votes considerably (43.8 %), he lost the election once again to Gökçek with a small margin. In 2019, he became CHP, İYİ Parti, Felicity Party, and Democrat Party’s joint candidate (Nation Alliance) for Ankara for the second time and this time he defeated AK Parti’s candidate Mehmet Özhaseki with 50.93 % of the votes against 47.12 %. Since 2019, he has been working as Ankara mayor and has a very good reputation for his hard work and honesty. Yavaş married Nursen Yavaş in 1986. They have two daughters: Armağan and Çağlayan.
Yavaş’s name first proposed by anti-immigration and ultranationalist Victory Party (Zafer Partisi) leader and academic Professor Ümit Özdağ. Yavaş reacted to Özdağ by saying that he is not a candidate for the moment and the six parties’ leaders will decide on the presidential candidate. Although Yavaş underlines that he concentrates on his municipal projects, I think he could accept the candidacy in case six parties agree on his name. Yavaş could be an ideal President for the transitional period into parliamentary regime with his nationalist background. However, a problem might appear in case this would create disturbance among the far-left elements within the CHP as well as Kurdish voters. So far, pro-Kurdish HDP’s (Peoples’ Democratic Party) imprisoned leader Selahattin Demirtaş made encouraging remarks for Yavaş. He said that they will focus on principles rather than the name of the candidate. However, a problem might appear if Yavaş’s speeches during his youth as an ultranationalist politician might disturb and alienate classical CHP voters.
Finally, it seems like the opposition bloc will either choose Kılıçdaroğlu, Yavaş, or İmamoğlu as its joint candidate for the 2023 Presidential election. Since the 2023 election marks the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, the opposition should choose the best among the alternatives to bring competition to the election. However, I believe that President Erdoğan is still very strong among his bloc and this will not be a bird in the hand election.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 https://www.indyturk.com/node/466156/siyaset/gezici-ara%C5%9Ft%C4%B1rman%C4%B1n-son-se%C3%A7im-anketi-i%CC%87kinci-turda-k%C4%B1l%C4%B1%C3%A7daro%C4%9Flu-%C5%9Fansl%C4%B1; https://turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/cumhurbaskanligi-2-tur-secim-senaryolari-6677/.
 For my earlier analysis on İmamoğlu, see; http://politikaakademisi.org/2021/09/22/a-new-political-star-is-rising-in-turkey-the-story-of-istanbul-mayor-ekrem-imamoglu/.