Turkey's opposition plots fightback against Erdogan

AFP , Wednesday 17 May 2023

Turkey's opposition tried on Wednesday to recover from a crushingly disappointing election performance and launch a new attack aimed at beating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a May 28 runoff.

A man walks past a billboard of Turkish CHP party leader and Nation Alliance s presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu a day after the presidential election day, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 15, 2023. AP


Secular leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu huddled with the other five heads of his alliance on Wednesday to plot a harder-edged strategy for ending Erdogan's two-decade domination of Turkey.

Media reports said he had fired his PR team and planned to tap Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu -- a feisty figure with a history of bad blood with Erdogan -- to spearhead his campaign.

The reported promotion of Imamoglu and the mayor's lauded strategist Canan Kaftancioglu marks a reversal for Turkey's grandfatherly opposition leader.

The 74-year-old former civil servant tried to run an inclusive campaign that addressed voters in chatty clips recorded from his kitchen and ignored Erdogan's personal barbs.

That approach worked -- up to a point.

The opposition deprived Erdogan of a first-round victory for the first time and collected more votes than in any point of his rule.

But Kilicdaroglu's 44.9 percent still trailed Erdogan's 49.5 percent of the votes.

Pre-election polls showed Kilicdaroglu leading and possibly even winning outright last Sunday.

Kilicdaroglu's fightback began with a video on Tuesday in which he stared straight into the camera and slapped his desk a few times after banging his heart with his fist.

"I am here! I am here!" he shouted. "I am here!"

Slight deficiencies

Erdogan looked far more relaxed as he assessed his performance on late-night television on Tuesday.

The 69-year-old conceded that his Islamic-rooted party had lost a few seats in parliament and suffered from "slight deficiencies".

Provisional results showed his conservative alliance's share falling from 333 to 322 in the 600-seat parliament.

"Unfortunately, my party suffered some declines, there is a slight deficiency," Erdogan said in the interview.

"We need to make our preparations to eliminate them. We will do our internal accounting and take the necessary steps."

It was a rare admission for Turkey's longest-serving leader.

But he spoke in measured tones befitting an incumbent who is entering the second round as the overwhelming favourite.

The remaining votes went to a little-known ultra-nationalist who has much more in common with the right-wing Erdogan than the leftist Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan said he would visit southeastern regions this weekend that were hit by a catastrophic February quake in which more than 50,000 lost their lives.

The president retained strong support in the area despite initial anger at the government's delayed search and rescue work.

Erdogan added that his team will be meeting with younger voters in Istanbul and Ankara to try and win in Turkey's two most important cities.

Imamoglu and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas beat out Erdogan's allies in 2019 municipal polls.

Credible and consistent

The campaign's second stage is being accompanied by Turkish market turmoil that has seen the lira near historic lows against the dollar.

Investors are starting to price in an Erdogan victory and the long-term continuation of his unconventional economic policies.

The cost of insuring exposure to Turkey's debt is rising out of fears that the country's once-vibrant banking sector could soon experience serious difficulties.

Erdogan's decision to force Turkey's central bank to fight historically high inflation with lower interest rates has put unprecedented pressure on the lira.

Analysts believe Erdogan tried to prop up the lira ahead of elections through indirect market interventions that drained Turkey's hard currency reserves.

His government also introduced rules that required banks to purchase more and more liras with their foreign currencies.

Some analysts warn Turkey might have to impose capital controls if Erdogan -- who has pledged to keep interest rates low as long as he remains in office -- does not reverse course.

"Our focus after the election will be whether the policy mix becomes more credible and consistent," the ratings agency Fitch said.

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