For years, Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has been ridiculed for his gentle demeanor and inability to make inroads election after election. Lately, however, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has discovered a taste for daring.
On Friday, he showed up uninvited to the country’s statistical agency and accused it of manipulating inflation data under the orders of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president. Standing outside his locked doors after being denied a meeting, he bluntly warned officials across the country to “do the right thing.”
As the country grapples with economic turmoil, a plunging currency and double-digit inflation, Kilicdaroglu has been backed by polls showing the combined voices of the opposition alliance he helped build are more higher than those of Erdogan and his allies. The loose coalition is confident it could overthrow the president in a nationwide vote slated for 2023, but which could be called sooner.
â€œWe have.. A government that has seriously lost its ability to govern,â€ Kilicdaroglu, a 72-year-old former bureaucrat who led the CHP for more than a decade, told the Financial Times. society has embraced the idea that these people are about to leave. â€
Kilicdaroglu is not an obvious leader in the unlikely alliance of opposition between nationalists, Kurds, leftists, rightists, secularists and religious conservatives.
The CHP he heads was created by the country’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and has long been seen as a standard-bearer of secularism, bringing him into conflict with Turkish conservatives. Describing itself as a social democrat, the CHP also has a strong nationalist streak which has alienated the country’s millions of Kurds.
But after years of failing to reduce the popularity of Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled for nearly two decades, Kilicdaroglu has become the architect of the unlikely group that now challenges Erdogan’s grip on the power.
The coalition began in 2017 when rival parties buried their differences to campaign together for a ‘no’ vote in that year’s referendum on abolishing the country’s parliamentary system and consolidating control of the president.
Their camp narrowly lost, but the campaign laid the groundwork for further collaboration. It paid off two years later when opposition candidates for unity won municipal elections in Istanbul and Ankara, ending 25 years of domination by Erdogan and his allies over the two most major cities of Turkey. Since then, Kilicdaroglu has carved out a role of intermediary with six other parties.
The president tried to break the alliance by exploiting its ideological loopholes. But the grouping has so far united by uniting behind a call for Turkey’s return to a parliamentary system and focusing on the state of the economy.
Inflation which has exceeded 20%, combined with the collapse of the Turkish lira, which has lost almost half of its value against the dollar this year, have contributed to the erosion of the AKP’s popularity. . According to polls, the party’s share of the vote is now hovering somewhere above 30%, against a peak of almost 50% in the 2011 elections.
“There is huge unemployment, life is expensive, people cannot make ends meet,” said Kilicdaroglu, who has repeatedly called for early elections so that the public can vote on the economic management of the country. ‘Erdogan. â€œPeople are looking for a way out. Of course, the solution lies in politics.
Analysts warn that the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan may not go quietly if he loses the vote. They refer to the Istanbul mayoral competition in 2019, when the president cited the fraud and canceled the results after opposition challenger Ekrem Imamoglu won.
Kilicdaroglu dismisses such concerns. Highlighting the public backlash against Erdogan’s decision to relaunch the Istanbul contest, which resulted in an opposition landslide in the second vote, he said the president should step down peacefully if defeated . â€œIstanbul was a test race,â€ he said. â€œHe won’t want to leave power, but we will get him out. ”
Erdogan’s supporters also had nothing to fear from an opposition victory, he said: â€œWe will not run the country with wickedness, anger and revenge.
Realizing the CHP’s bad reputation among conservatives, Kilicdaroglu last month called for forgiveness for the party’s past mistakes, such as opposing women wearing headscarves.
Despite such overtures, a recent poll by Turkish pollster Metropoll found that nearly 70% of AKP voters, many of them devout Muslims, feared the prospect of a government made up of the CHP and its allies from the Nationalist Party of right IYI.
Some of the CHP’s key policies are also controversial internationally, including a commitment to reconcile with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and return the 3.6 million Syrian refugees to Turkey.
The opposition could also stumble, analysts warn. Some within the CHP fear that Kilicdaroglu will stand as the best candidate to challenge Erdogan for the presidency, despite polls showing he would be less popular than Imamoglu or Mansur Yavas, the mayor of Ankara.
Kilicdaroglu refuses to rule out the prospect of a presidential candidacy. But for now, he said, the opposition should focus on the country’s economic problems. â€œThere is a fire in the kitchen,â€ he said. â€œEveryone is desperately looking for an escape route. “