Turkey: Kilicdaroglu emerges as Erdogan’ main challenger

ANKARA, Turkey (Caasimada Online) – Turkey’s six-party opposition alliance has selected Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as its presidential candidate for the landmark May 14 elections.  

This puts him in direct contention with President Tayyip Erdogan, who has held power for two decades and transformed Turkey into a NATO member country and major emerging market economy.  

Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant and economist, said he aims to steer Turkey towards prosperity, peace, and joy.  

His six-party alliance runs slightly ahead of the governing coalition in the polls. The election is expected to be one of the most consequential in the country’s 100-year history. 

The opposition’s platform  

The opposition bloc has vowed to reverse many of Erdogan’s policies on the economy, civil rights, and foreign affairs, which they believe have had a negative impact on Turkey.  

Kilicdaroglu could benefit from years of economic crisis, soaring inflation, and criticism of the state’s response to last month’s devastating earthquakes in the south that killed over 46,000 people.  

However, some wonder if the opposition’s charismatic leader can defeat Erdogan, who has won over a dozen election victories with his campaigning skills. 

The stakes of Turkey election  

The election is crucial as it will decide not only who leads Turkey but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed, and what role it may play in easing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. 

Erdogan’s popularity has dipped amid a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation soaring as high as 85%. 

However, pollsters on Friday indicated that Erdogan and the AK Party had retained their support.  

Erdogan has never faced a serious electoral threat since his AKP was elected in 2002. Since then, he has increasingly molded Turkey into his vision of a pious, conservative society and assertive regional military power. 

Alliance drama 

On Monday, a last-minute deal to reunite the opposition bloc, which had been splintered by the right-wing IYI Party’s opposition to Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy, may have boosted his prospects.  

After a tense 72 hours, the alliance met again and accepted an IYI proposal that popular CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, respectively, would be appointed as vice presidents.  

Kilicdaroglu also stated that the leaders of the other five opposition parties would serve as vice presidents. 

Reflecting concerns over Kilicdaroglu’s ability to win, IYI leader Meral Aksener left the alliance on Friday, saying that one of the mayors should take on Erdogan as they would fare better. But she returned on Monday.  

Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, an Istanbul-based political advisory, said that the deal was “a massive political coup against Erdogan and should hand the opposition a decisive win in the first round on May 14.”  

The co-leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP, the third-biggest party in parliament, said they would back Kilicdaroglu after “clear and open” talks. 

The election outlook 

The opposition’s success in 2019, when it took control of Istanbul, Ankara, and other big cities from the AKP in elections, has brought them closer together.

Devlet Kus, a retired teacher who attended the candidacy announcement ceremony, said, “I am here to witness history in the making. 

Everything will change for the better, and our country will be free. Our children will live in a more free and happier country when the opposition wins.”

The election on May 14 is a historic vote that will shape the future of Turkey for years to come.  

Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are seasoned politicians, but the question of who will emerge victorious remains uncertain.  

Kilicdaroglu’s promise of a table of peace and consultation and his desire to take the country towards days of prosperity, peace, and joy will resonate with many Turkish citizens who have struggled through years of economic instability and political polarization. 

However, Erdogan’s charisma, campaign skills, and success in transforming Turkey into a regional power will also appeal to many voters. 

The stakes are high as the election will determine Turkey’s domestic policies and foreign relations, particularly regarding the Ukraine and Middle East conflict.