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Opposition parties in Turkey band together to try to defeat President Erdogan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Turkey is holding its own election campaign. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is back on the ballot next month. During 20 years in power, he has gained from a divided opposition. Now they've joined forces in hopes of defeating him. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Sixty-four-year-old Alaatin Erim says he doesn't know a lot about the coalition known as the Table of Six. But he likes the idea of several parties banding together to defeat Erdogan.

ALAATIN ERIM: (Through interpreter) Yes, the alliance table. I also think that's a good thing. I hope it can continue for a while. Addressing the issues won't happen overnight. It will take time. Yes, I think the No. 1 issue is the economy.

KENYON: Some younger voters say they're voting for the coalition because they're desperate for a change after two decades of Erdogan's ruling party in power. Twenty-four-year-old Ibrahim Iper says if the opposition wins, its first priority should be to, quote, "fix our democracy." He says that's not something he would entrust to Erdogan.

IBRAHIM IPER: Our position is difficult for Turkey because this government is, right now, make everything difficult. We want to change because we are young. Young people want to change this position. For economical or political, we don't like it.

KENYON: Analyst Sinan Ulgen, head of the Center for Economics and Policy Studies in Istanbul, says the coming together of this coalition is a remarkable event in Turkish politics.

SINAN ULGEN: One major failure why the opposition was not able to unseat Erdogan in the past related to its failure to act as a united opposition. This time around, the opposition has been able to set up a large coalition that includes six different political parties.

KENYON: The coalition is supporting veteran politician Kemal Kilicdaroglu for president, but it's made up of nationalist and pro-Kurdish parties and others not normally allies. That's led to some growing pains. Meral Aksener, the head of the most conservative party in the coalition, bolted from the alliance last month before two other members convinced her to return. Ulgen says that's not surprising, given the broad differences among the parties in the coalition.

ULGEN: This is inherently a difficult exercise because you have parties with different political philosophies. And, in that sense, it's quite a unique experiment in Turkish politics. Having said that, they've also been able to draft quite a comprehensive policy platform.

KENYON: The coalition platform emphasizes rule of law and seeks to weaken the office of the presidency. Not surprisingly, President Erdogan has nothing good to say about the coalition. In an interview with a state television news channel, he said there's a hidden seventh party in the coalition, a pro-Kurdish party, which the government says supports Kurdish militants who have been battling security forces for decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) Let's call this a table of seven, not six. It's missing one. Where is the obvious party? As I always say, it's under the table.

KENYON: Other observers say this coalition has taken on a hugely important task, namely, trying to reverse what critics see as Turkey's slide toward authoritarianism under Erdogan. Analyst Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, says that's the question Turkish voters should be thinking about in this 100th year of the modern Turkish Republic.

SOLI OZEL: This year, we celebrate the centennial of the Turkish Republic, founded on Enlightenment principles by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his colleagues, and whether or not Turkey will continue on the secular, modernizing path, or will it actually be increasingly religious conservatism, Islamization?

KENYON: In a few weeks, the opposition will learn if it has the votes it needs to launch a post-Erdogan era in Turkish politics.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.