Who is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and can he beat Turkey’s President Erdoğan?

After months of negotiations, an alliance of six Turkish opposition parties has finally chosen its candidate for the presidential election.

The leader of the social-democratic CHP party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will face President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 14 May.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s campaign will likely focus on promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law after years of increasingly centralised power under Erdoğan.

And due to a perceived slow government response to devastating earthquakes last month, a currency crisis and rampant inflation, political scientists believe the opposition candidate may have a real chance.

“All the important actors of the opposition are involved in this election alliance by supporting Kiliçdaroglu’s candidacy”, says Ali Çarkoglu, a political scientist at Koç University.

“The performance of the AKP and the Erdoğan government in recent years, both in economic and security policy, has been mediocre.”

“Combining these two factors, we could expect Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to win the presidential election easily.”

A chance to win

Samim Akgönul, a historian and political scientist at the University of Strasbourg, agrees that Kiliçdaroglu has a strong position. 

“If we enter a normal, regular election period where the political parties will campaign and the leaders will campaign and then put themselves to the judgment of the electorate, I really think that Kemal Kilçdaroglu has a chance to win.”

“Because there is a feeling of wear and tear on power, there is a feeling of being fed up, in the opposition, in the whole of society, but also for the first time, there is a very broad coalition against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

A veteran candidate

But, as Akgönul notes, not all opposition supporters are behind Kılıçdaroğlu as a candidate.

“As he is a veteran candidate, a veteran leader, he does not represent the new. He does not represent the new breath and does not represent the new emotion.”

“He is a rather old man, 74 years old I think, and the electorate knows him well.”

The opposition alliance hopes that if he wins Kılıçdaroğlu will govern in a more conciliatory format, respecting constraints on his power.

His image as a reserved intellectual compared to the fiery and charismatic nature of Erdoğan has long done him a disservice. Now it may be exactly what the opposition needs to clinch victory.


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