ISTANBUL, Turkey – The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party predicted Saturday that voters who backed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the past would “side with democracy” instead of a “dictatorship” during the next elections in June.
Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he is confident of ousting Erdogan from office by winning the snap parliamentary and presidential elections “with at least 60 percent of votes” even though the party lagged in past votes.
But the 69-year-old politician’s optimism has weak spots. Though Kilicdaroglu says the pro-secular party, known as CHP, wasn’t “surprised” by this week’s announcement of early elections and ready to compete, it has yet to put forward a presidential candidate, a campaign plan or potential alliances.
Erdogan, meanwhile, has worked to consolidate his base for months with speeches and events, bolstered by rising nationalism amid Turkey’s military operation in Syria against a Kurdish stronghold.
During a live interview on NTV Saturday, Erdogan challenged Kilicdaroglu to run as the CHP’s candidate for president.
“He should enter this race,” the president said. “Let’s see how much the nation votes for you.”
Erdogan scoffed at the opposition leader’s “self-confident statements,” noting that Kilicdaroglu greatly overestimated how many votes CHP would get in the 2015 general elections.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan and his ruling party moved up the next elections from November 2019 to June 24 this year “to obtain more power, to completely suspend democracy.”
A year ago, Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to change Turkey’s form of government to an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister and giving the president more powers. The change takes effect after a presidential election is held.
Kilicdaroglu said if Erdogan is victorious, the new system would establish Turkey as “the one-man regime.”
Though the CHP garnered only a quarter of national votes in the 2015 general elections, it has been emboldened by the 48.6 percent of “no” votes in the referendum and the wide support for the party’s protest march last June.
The march, following the jailing of a CHP lawmaker, was a response to the state of emergency declared after a failed coup attempt in July 2016 that is still in place and which the opposition leader calls “a civilian coup.”
In its aftermath, he said, pressures on media increased, parliamentarians were arrested, journalists were jailed, non-governmental organizations were silenced or their managers imprisoned.
“I hope that on June 24 we go to the polls with joy and wake up on June 25 with hope,” Kilicdaroglu said.
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