Turkey opposition names fiery lawmaker as Erdogan challenger

AFP , Friday 4 May 2018

Muharrem Ince
Muharrem Ince, Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate for the upcoming snap presidential election, greets supporters as he starts his campaign in Ankara, Turkey, May 4, 2018. (SOURCE: REUTERS)

Turkey's main opposition party Friday named a senior lawmaker known for his fiery and impassioned rhetoric as its candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in next month's election, paving the way for a potentially bruising campaign.

The candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP) in the June 24 poll will be Muharrem Ince, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who had already made clear he would not be standing, announced.

"On June 24, I will, God willing, be president by the wish of the people," Ince added after being called to the stage at an Ankara rally by Kilicdaroglu.

"For 80 million people (Turkey's population)... I will be everyone's president. I will be an unbiased president," he added.

The candidacy of Ince, a former physics teacher and MP since 2002, was approved at a meeting of CHP MPs where all 110 of its lawmakers voted for him to stand.

Ince, who turned 54 Friday, faces an uphill struggle to convince voters, as he is running against Turkey's most experienced and rhetorically-gifted campaigner in the shape of Erdogan.

Yet Ince's greatest political assets are his rhetorical skills and impassioned speeches which have made him a favourite with the CHP faithful in recent years.

"Muharrem Ince is the best candidate that CHP could select in terms of rallying the party base," Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told AFP.

"He will be able to ensure a large turnout of the CHP electorate on election day."

Ince's tough talking has drawn a sharp contrast with the more bookish manners of Kilicdaroglu, who has led the CHP since 2010 but without ever seriously troubling Erdogan.

Ince twice -- in 2014 and 2018 -- challenged Kilicdaroglu for the leadership of the CHP but failed to oust the incumbent head.

He has generally been more ready than Kilicdaroglu to adopt a gloves-off approach towards Erdogan, raising the prospect of a fierce political campaign.

In his acceptance speech to the CHP meeting, Ince showed he would have no fear confronting Erdogan, describing him as "a so-called world leader (who) is everyday ranting and raving."

He had famously vowed to sell off Erdogan's gigantic presidential palace opened in 2014 should he be elected.

In his speech, Ince said the palace should be handed over the youth and made a "home for science".

The confirmation of Ince's move came as Erdogan's candidacy was registered with the election authorities in Ankara by Prime Minister Binali Yilidim and nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli.

The June 24 parliamentary and presidential elections will be a landmark in modern Turkish history.

After the vote, a new presidential system agreed in an April 2017 referendum which the CHP has claimed gives the head of state authoritarian powers will come into force.

Should Erdogan win, he will receive another five-year mandate which would allow him to press on with a transformation of Turkey that began when he first became prime minister in 2003.

The CHP is due to make an alliance with three other opposition parties -- notably the new Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener -- for the elections.

Aksener, who some analysts see as a possible serious force in the race, launched a campaign Friday to gather the minimum 100,000 signatures required to be allowed to stand.

Ulgen said both Ince and Aksener could vie for a place in a second round run-off against Erdogan but he would still need to "cannibalise" some of the conservative vote to beat the president.

Absent from the election pact is the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is also strongly hostile to Erdogan.

The HDP has named its charismatic former leader Selahattin Demirtas as presidential candidate even though he is currently behind bars and on trial. The HDP is due to present Demirtas as candidate later Friday.

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