Turkey election to see keen contest - GulfToday

Turkey election to see keen contest

A large number of voters are expected to turn out for choosing their leader.

President Erdogan is a strong candidate despite some devastating failures on the economic front.

A united opposition – an alliance of five parties – in Turkiye has announced Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party as the presidential candidate to fight incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years now. Kilicdaroglu, 74, served in the finance department of the government, and entered parliament in 2002. He became leader of his party in 2010 and is seen as a social democrat. There was a split in the opposition alliance over his candidacy when right-wing nationalist IYI or Good party’s Meral Aksener opposed his name, suggesting that the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, had a better chance than Kilicdaroglu based on opinion polls. But a compromise has been worked out, and her suggestion that Imamoglu and Yavas, should be made vice presidents if the alliance wins the election in May has been accepted. Kilicdaroglu has promised to make leaders of the five parties in the alliance vice presidents.

Kilicdaroglu and his party have not been able to defeat Erdogan and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in the national elections on previous occasions. What has raised the hopes of the opposition parties is the victory of Imamoglu and Yavas in the 2019 mayoral elections in Istanbul and Ankara. Speaking in Ankara on Monday, Kilicdaroglu said, “Our table is the table of peace. Our only goal is to take the country to days of prosperity, peace and joy.”

President Erdogan had emerged as a strong and charismatic leader and his Justice and Development Party had strongly opposed the strictly secular tenets propagated by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk a century ago. Through the 1980s, the army generals kept to the secular ideology and banned the Justice and Development Party on many occasions. In the last 20 years, Erdogan followed his party’s ideology of Islamism, and removed many of the restrictions like wearing scarves that the army had insisted on. Erdogan is also seen by the opposition as being authoritarian, and who is keen to shift Turkiye to a presidential form of government from that of the existing parliamentary system. The opposition parties are opposed to the presidential system because they believe that it is an attempt by Erdogan to assume more powers. The opposition alliance is not any more fighting Erdogan on the secularism issue, though they have been emphasising the aspect of greater democracy.

Turkiye has been facing an economic crisis, and the massive earthquake last month, which killed 45,000 people in the southeast of the country has made the economic troubles more acute. The opposition alliance wants to fight Erdogan on his failure to tackle the economic problems, and the inadequate response to the earthquake and the enormous destruction that it has unleashed. Erdogan, on the other hand, can claim credit of playing an important mediatory role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Turkiye has worked out a deal between Russia and Ukraine to facilitate Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea ports. The United Nations was part of the negotiations as well. And Erdogan had taken a tough stance over the membership of Sweden in NATO because Erdogan had accused Sweden of harbouring Turkish political dissidents and militants. The United States and other European members of NATO have been pleading with Erdogan to relent on the issue. But he has stuck to his position. It is this image of a man who plays a tough game in international relations that seems to help Erdogan win elections and stay in power. The opposition has failed in the last two decades because of Erdogan’s image as a strong leader. The opposition seems to believe that Erdogan is losing support as reflected in the municipal elections of 2019, where majority of the mayors, including that of Istanbul and Ankara, are opposition candidates, and this time they can defeat Erdogan.

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