Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition candidate for the presidency in Turkey’s mid-May elections, has said his ambitions do not extend beyond defeating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, getting the country back on track for the next generation of leaders and then retiring to look after his grandchildren.
Unseating Erdogan would in fact be the “easiest” of the stated goals of the six-party Nation Alliance, or “Table of Six”, opposition bloc, said the 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu in a video posted to Twitter on March 20.
“So, the main issue that should unite us all is this: Competing with the world, winning and getting what we deserve. Turks, Kurds, Sunnis, Alevis, [women] who wear headscarves and those who don’t, leftists and rightists should unite in this common [goal],” added Kilicdaroglu, who has led the main opposition social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) for 13 years and is sometimes referred to as “Gandhi Kemal” given his resemblance to the Indian civil rights leader.
“In short, we will put our country back on track so that the leaders [coming] after us will have stable ground on which they can tread safely. … And then I will retire to take care of my grandchildren,” Kilicdaroglu, who will take on the 69-year-old Erdogan on May 14, vowed in the video.
In a seeming reference to the New Welfare Party (YRP), one of the smaller parties in Turkey, Kilicdaroglu noted that a party, while discussing terms for joining the Erdogan-led People’s Alliance coalition, recently demanded that the president repeal Law No. 6284 on the protection of the family and prevention of violence against women.
He argued that the “real target” of this move would be conservative young women in Turkey who wear headscarves. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies want to “oppress” and “control” these young women, said Kilicdaroglu.
Some analysts have argued that Kilicdaroglu has the wind in his sails in his battle to topple Turkey’s leader of two decades and serial winner Erdogan, but there are worries that he is a dull speech-giver who has never won a major election during a long political career.
Selim Koru, an analyst at the Ankara-based Tepav think tank, speaking to the Financial Times not long after Kilicdaroglu was selected as the main challenger to Erdogan, remarked: “Some people [like Erdogan], when they get in front of a crowd, it’s natural, they just connect. When Kilicdaroglu gets in front of a crowd … everyone looks at their phones within five minutes.”
However, he noted that Kilicdaroglu had been performing better in public of late. His victorious speech to parliament following his selection as the challenger “connected with people”, he said.
The kingmaker in both the parliamentary and presidential polls could prove to be the pro-Kurdish minority Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third biggest party in parliament.
Ertugrul Kurkcu, honorary president of the HDP, told Middle East Eye (MEE) on March 13 that Erdogan “wants to get rid of the presence of the HDP in parliament [with moves in the courts]—he hopes voters will move from us to the AKP”.
However, pointed out Kurkcu: “The general inclination among the Kurdish people is to vote for whoever gets rid of Erdogan.”
Two big issues in the election will be whether Erdogan is or is not guilty of economic mismanagement and whether he and his administration are responsible for the sheer scale of the earthquake disaster that hit Turkey in early February, killing at least 50,000 people and possibly many more.
Kurkcu is among those who have accused Erdogan of a slow response to the tragedy that cost lives, while many critics have said that corruption, laxity and incompetence have undermined Turkey’s building codes to such an extent under the president’s watch that thousands of buildings were inadequately constructed and were sitting ducks for major earthquakes that were highly predictable.