Can mild-mannered ‘Turkey’s Gandhi’ Kilicdaroglu unseat authoritarian Erdogan?

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Public TV English
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NICOSIA: Kemal Kilicdaroglu the 74-year-old politician dubbed “Turkey’s Gandhi”- due to his mild manners and physical resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi, India’s preeminent anti-colonial nationalist leader and prophet of non-violence – has recently been chosen by the six opposition parties as their joint candidate to stand against Turkey’s hardman Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the forthcoming elections.

Polls suggest it will be a tight race for both the presidency and the parliament. Last week Erdogan officially announced that the presidential and parliamentary elections, which are viewed by many people as the most crucial in Turkey for decades, will be held on May 14, that is a month before the constitutionally prescribed deadline of June 18.

The elections coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the opposite of Erdogan.

Ataturk was an uncompromising secularist who ended the Ottoman caliphate, shut religious courts and schools, stripped religious leaders of their authority, banned the wearing of the fez and discouraged the hijab.

He turned Turkey into a modern and secular state, while Kemalism, enforced by the powerful military, became the dominant ideology in Turkey.

Erdogan, who is an avowed Islamist, rolled back many of the secular reforms brought about by Kemalist governments, managed to reign in the Army, declared his desire to “raise a pious generation” and increased the number of religious schools all over Turkey from 450 schools 15 years ago to 4,500.

In the first decade of his 20 year-rule, Erdogan was internationally seen as a reformist, who presided over a period of growth, improved the standard of living of millions of Turks and built a host of giant infrastructure projects.
However, during the second decade of his rule, Erdogan started eroding democratic institutions.

Especially after the failed coup in July 2016, he has purged the civil service, the army and the courts of tens of thousands of suspected opponents, currently controls the vast majority of the Turkish mass media and changed the political system of the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

His opponents fear that if Erdogan manages to get re-elected in the forthcoming elections, he will become even more autocratic, will continue to abuse the considerable powers given him by the constitutional changes brought about three years ago, will alter radically the Turkish society and Turkey will be a democracy only in name.

Namik Tan, Turkey’s former Ambassador to the US, in an article in the Yetkin Report, wrote: “If the powers that be get their way, Turkey will complete its long transformation from a semi-democracy into a full-blown authoritarian regime. Secularism (at least what’s left of it) will be further eroded and perhaps complete erased. If this happens, our citizens may never witness free elections again.”

The chances of the Table of Six winning the elections will improve dramatically if Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) takes the decision to support Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

This depends on whether the Six Parties will have clear and open talks with HDP, which is Turkey’s third largest party.

On Monday Mithat Sancar, HDP party co-leader made it clear that his party’s support for Kilicdaroglu depends on reaching an agreement on matters of principle.

He said: “Our clear expectation is a transition for a strong democracy. If we can agree on fundamental principles, we may support him in presidential elections.”

It should be noted that in the past Meral Aksener, the nationalist leader of IYI -the second largest party in the opposition coalition- had strongly objected to any talks between the Table of Six and the pro-Kurdish HDP.

However, a few days ago, she changed her tune and said she would not object to the other five parties establishing a dialogue with HDP, but added that she would not join the discussions herself.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, belongs to the Alevi religious minority, but is a die-hard democrat secularist and is exactly the opposite of Islamist and autocratic Erdogan. He is well known for his honesty and reliability.

Kilicdaroglu has a degree in economics and finance and served as an advisor to the Ministry of Treasury and director of social security. In 1994 he was chosen as “Bureaucrat of the Year, by a financial magazine, and throughout his long career, he has been fighting corruption.

He is a reserved intellectual who always remains calm, something that earned him the nicknames of “Gandhi Kemal”, “Turkey’s Gandhi” or the “quiet force.”

As he is a reserved man who always stays calm and never gets angry, many Turks, including IYI party leader Meral Aksener, considered him an unsuitable candidate for the six-party coalition to stand opposite the fiery Erdogan. The coalition was formed last year for the purpose of putting an end to Erdogan’s autocratic rule.

Undoubtedly, Erdogan is currently facing very strong opposition to his autocratic rule, as Turks are angry about the soaring inflation, the deep devaluation of the Turkish lira, and the slow and ineffective way the Turkish government responded to the earthquakes that left almost 48,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Erdogan is clearly determined to make everything possible to win the elections and warns that a victory of the Nation Alliance (as is the official name of the six-party coalition) will be a catastrophe for the country. “We cannot leave Turkey at the mercy of a multifaceted, greedy coalition lacking direction. We cannot allow such a disaster,” he told a meeting of AK Party supporters.

Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, points out: “What animates President Erdogan at this stage is political survival. He has to win elections at whatever cost. He’s afraid that if he loses the elections, he’ll be prosecuted or even persecuted, he and his family members.

And therefore, he’ll try to win elections by hook or by crook. So that means doubling down on autocracy.” (ANI)

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