Longtime Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s nemesis is a former civil servant who is fond of creating heart emojis with his hands.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, supported by a six-party opposition alliance, asserts that, if elected, he will do whatever it takes to restore freedom and democracy to Turkey.
“The youth want democracy,” he declared. They do not want the police to show up at their doorsteps at dawn because they tweeted.
He is the principal opponent of the Islamist leader in the 14 May elections and has a narrow lead in the surveys. This close contest is anticipated to advance to the second round two weeks later.
At present, “insulting the president” is a criminal offense in Turkey. Numerous have.
“I am telling young people that they are welcome to criticize me. The 74-year-old leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) asserts, “I will ensure that they have the right to do so.”
Some of Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s supporters are concerned for his safety, but he explains that this is par for the course.
“To be a politician in Turkey is to choose a life fraught with danger. I will pursue my goals regardless of what Erdogan and his allies do. They cannot deter me. They cannot frighten me. I committed to this country.”
President Erdogan, 69, has previously ridiculed his adversary by stating that he “couldn’t even herd a sheep.” Now, he is more difficult to disregard.
The opposition candidate is greeted by a sea of flag-waving supporters as he arrives for a rally in the opposition stronghold port city of Izmir.
People are chanting, “Kilicdaroglu is the people’s hope.” The majority of the audience is young. In this election, five million Turks will vote for the first time.
At 15, Oguz is too young to vote, but he couldn’t resist attending the rally. “He is a decent person with an optimistic outlook on the future. If he is elected president, our economy will grow and so will we.
Before the rally, Mr. Kilicdaroglu told me he would reorient Turkey and prioritize relations with the West over the Kremlin.
“We want to become part of the civilized world,” he stated. “We want a free press and complete judicial autonomy. Erdogan disagrees with this viewpoint. He desires to become more authoritative. The distinction between us and Erdogan is as stark as night and day.”
But will Recep Tayyip Erdogan go silently if he is defeated after twenty years in power, first as prime minister and now as president with absolute authority?
Mr. Kilicdaroglu stated, “We will send him to his corner and retire him.” “He will retreat in silence. There should be no cause for concern.”
Others are skeptical. There are indications that if he loses, the Turkish leader may contest the outcome. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has warned that the referendum will be a “West-led coup attempt.”
Mr. Kilicdaroglu stated that the combined opposition would be vigilant, having no faith in either the president “or his Supreme Election Council or his judges”
“By having multiple observers at each polling location, we want to ensure that ballots are cast correctly, and securely and that the counting is accurate. We have taken precautions and worked diligently for a year and a half to accomplish this.”
In many respects, he is Erdogan’s opposite. At his modest kitchen table, with tea towels hung precisely in the background, he has recorded campaign videos.
His opponent appeared in a video holding an onion, warning that prices would continue to rise if Mr. Erdogan remained in power. “A kilogram of onions now costs 30 lira,” he said. If he remains, he will be charged 100 lira.
Widespread responsibility is placed on the president’s economic policies for the rampant inflation here. Whoever wins will inherit a shattered economy and a fractured nation, for neither of which there is a silver bullet.
However, his rally on the waterfront in Izmir occurred just one day after the president’s segregated large gathering.
Many religiously conservative individuals will support him. He is fluent in their vernacular. In addition, he has strengthened his support through pre-election expenditures, including wage increases.
As election day approaches, there is mounting tension.
Many conversations are laced with election chatter – and fears – and Turkey must choose between two starkly contrasting visions.
A new survey of opinion polls indicates that Mr. Kilicdaroglu will win the presidency, while the president’s alliance leads in the contest for the legislature.
Due to the closeness of the election, no one can be certain that the upcoming weeks will be tranquil.