Kivanc Dundar in Istanbul -
bne IntelliNews profiles the men who – apart of course from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – will determine the course of the country's politics after the parliamentary election on November 1.
The 56-year-old academic-turned politician was handpicked by as the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and prime minister in 2014 after Erdogan was elected president.
Davutoglu taught international relations at universities and served as foreign minister in the previous Erdogan governments from 2004 to 2014. According to critics, his much touted “zero problems with neighbours” policy turned into “zero neighbours with lots of problems” following Turkey’s deeper involvement in the Middle East’s complex politics after Ankara decided it could be the new leader of the wider Muslim world, supporting one group against the other in regional conflicts. The result: Turkey has no ambassadors in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Israel.
AKP supporters call him the “hoca” or the teacher, but he lacks Erdogan’s charisma and oratorical skills. Erdogan remains the real leader of the AKP.
Recently Davutoglu was mocked when he denied that his government was supporting the Islamic State guerrillas. “There is not a 180 degree but a 360 degree of difference between Turkey's brand of Islam and that of the Islamic State,” he said, unaware that this actually puts Turkey and the Islamic State on the same spot.
The prime minister also sparked a great deal of mockery online when he offered matchmaking services to the voters at another rally. “You have food, and a job. What’s left? A spouse. If you parents could not find you a suitable partner, come to us, we’ll find one”, said Davutoglu.
Born to a poor family in 1948, Kilicdaroglu became leader of the secularist, centre-left Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) in 2010 when its long-time leader Deniz Baykal was forced to resign after a sex tape scandal.
Kilicdaoglu, nicknamed Turkey’s Gandhi for his physical resemblance and his calm attitude, had served in the state bureaucracy (he was general-director of social security for eight years) until he entered politics in 1999 and then was elected to parliament in 2002.
His humble, soft talking persona has sometimes struggled to be heard against Erdogan. He has increased CHP’s votes steadily from 20% in 2002 elections to 26% in the 2011 elections. In June this year Kilicdaroglu’s CHP won 25% of the vote, while according to a recent survey by polling agency Konda published by BusinessHT, support for his party has now risen to 30.4%.
During his first years as CHP leader, Kilicdaroglu spent much of his time only criticising Erdogan and his AKP, failing to put forward any comprehensive and convincing programme.
However, ahead of the June elections, Kilicdaroglu became a little bit bolder, promising to revive the economy by establishing high value-added goods producing industrial zones, investing more in infrastructure and investment incentives, to lower Turkey’s high unemployment. He also pledged to solve the Kurdish problem through more transparent talks with the Kurds. But he also made more populist promises such as higher minimum wage and pensions. He said his economic team, which includes respected economy professor Selin Sayek Boke and former Treasury undersecretary Faik Oztrak, did all the maths and his promises were realistic.
Kilicdaroglu, however, still failed to appeal to the conservative and mostly poor AKP supporters in the June elections, let alone the Kurdish voters. Some of CHP's supporters apparently voted for the Kurdish party HDP to help it pass the notoriously high 10% threshold to enter parliament.
After the inconclusive June elections, Kilicdaroglu said his party could form a government with the AKP under certain conditions but his efforts failed. Kilicdaroglu hopes that this time around Erdogan will not be able to block the formation of a coalition government. But the question is how long a coalition government of the AKP and CHP could survive if Erdogan’s influence over politics is not reduced.
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the Kurdish HDP, is the rising star of the Turkish politics. Under the leadership of the young (42 years old), charismatic and articulate Demirtas, who studied law in Ankara, the HDP ran a very successful election campaign, mostly focusing on freedoms and Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
At the end, the HDP won 13% of the vote in June, and 80 seats in parliament, depriving the AKP of the parliamentary majority Erdogan’s party has enjoyed for 13 years.
Some dubbed Demirtas and HDP, Turkey’s Alexis Tsipras and Syriza before the elections as the party seemed to reach out to a wider audience of non-Kurdish, leftist voters. Many leftwingers – a tiny fraction of the total electorates – and some CHP voters supported Demirtas in the elections, but his party managed to steal votes mostly from the AKP. Even conservative Kurdish voters, who previously supported the AKP, turned to the HDP after Erdogan hardened his nationalist rhetoric in the run-up to the elections.
Despite all his charm, good looks and humour, it will be difficult for Demirtas to transform the HDP into a mainstream left party. He is very good at politics, but weak on economic issues. He only talks about broader issues like income inequality, unemployment, job security and pensions.
According to public opinion surveys, the HDP will again clear the 10% threshold in the November elections and win around 70-80 of the 550-seat parliament.
After the June elections Demirtas kept and he still keeps the door open to a coalition with the AKP and CHP, but he says he would not enter a coalition with the nationalist MHP.
Devlet Bahceli, 67, is the tough talking, uncompromising leader of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Bahceli, who was an economics academic at a university in Ankara until 1987, became the leader of the MHP in 1997 and is their unchallenged leader.
Bahceli was dubbed “Mr No” after the June elections, because he rejected every coalition offer. He says there is no Kurdish problem in Turkey, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, must be totally crushed. Bahceli sees the HDP as the political front of the PKK, and thus rejects any coalition option that features the HDP.
The MHP had 18% of the votes in 1999 at the height of the clashes between the PKK and the military. But, its support dropped to 8% in 2002, only to recover to 14.2% in 2007. In June, the MHP garnered 16% of the votes and won 80 seats.
Recently Bahceli softened his tone, saying that he is now ready for a coalition government either with the AKP or with the CHP for the sake of the country, if the November 1 elections turn out to be inconclusive.
But the revival of the peace talks with the PKK would be impossible under a coalition government of the AKP-MHP, and a CHP-MHP coalition will require the HDP’s support from outside, which also looks unlikely.
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