Turkey’s “desperate” opposition is playing the nationalist card

Buoyed by confidence, Turkey’s opposition alliance opened a 600-seat hall to journalists on Sunday as it prepared an outdoor space for a rally following its election victory.

A senior adviser to presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has predicted that he will win in the first round against Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The mood at the event was so depressing after the votes were counted on Monday that Kılıçdaroğlu felt obliged to release a video to prove it still existed. Slamming his fist on the table, he growled, “I-I’M HERE.”

It marked the start of a shocking overhaul of Turkey’s leading opposition candidate, whose campaign has veered from speeches about spring, pictures of cherry trees and heart-shaped emoticons to belligerent speeches promising to throw out millions of immigrants.

“Kılıçdaroğlu conducted this campaign and promised that the gates of heaven would open. Now he says that the gates of hell must be closed,” said journalist and author Kemal Can, who has been covering the right-wing situation in Turkey for more than three decades.

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“When politicians in Turkey fall short or need quick results, they play the nationalism card.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s latest gambit is to turn the campaign around before the May 28 runoff vote. His challenge is to close a seemingly insurmountable gap with Erdoğan, who rose to 49.5 percent to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 44.9 percent on Sunday.

Playing in the first round of votes was Sinan Oğan, a Turkish-nationalist candidate of Azeri heritage who graduated from Moscow, who won an unexpectedly large 5 percent share with a platform that played on the traditional grievances of the right.

Syrian refugee children play in front of a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Kahramanmaras refugee camp
More than 3 million Syrian refugees live within Turkey’s borders, and others have immigrated from countries such as Afghanistan. Immigration is a key issue in political parties © Burak Kara/Getty Images

Following this, at a press conference on Thursday, Erdoğan adopted his fiery campaign style and vowed to “send all refugees home” after coming to power. More than 3 million Syrian refugees live within the country’s borders, and others have immigrated from countries such as Afghanistan. Immigration is a key issue in political parties.

All efforts at a positive, issue-based campaign have also been abandoned for bare-bones attacks on the president. “Erdoğan, you did not protect the borders,” Kılıçdaroğlu declared.

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Rejecting Erdoğan’s repeated claims that the opposition is linked to terrorists, Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan of doing so, citing the president’s efforts to resolve the decades-long insurgency by Kurdish militants until 2015.

He even made hay out of his former ties to Erdoğan and cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the government blames for orchestrating a failed coup attempt in his Pennsylvania compound in 2016.

A former member of Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) said his rightward turn “signals desperation” and will eventually backfire.

“He must present a portrait of a calm, capable, steadfast leader,” said the former representative, who requested anonymity. “Many will continue to vote for him tactically, including victims of the Kurds and others who feel victimized by this new rhetoric.”

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s campaign has ranged from speeches about spring, pictures of cherry trees and heart-shaped emoticons to belligerent speeches promising to throw out immigrants © AFP via Getty Images

Kılıçdaroğlu was not the only one to disappoint. Other members of the “table of six” opposition coalition also underperformed in the parliamentary vote. The alliance’s second-largest member, the nationalist İyi party, won just 9.7 percent of the vote, according to state media, well below the low double digits predicted by some polls.

In contrast, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is part of Erdogan’s parliamentary coalition, performed better than polls had predicted.

Emre Peker, an analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy, said Kılıçdaroğlu’s “shift to a more hawkish and aggressive tone” had moved him into the comfort zone of Turkey’s ruler, an unfettered campaigner who effectively co-opted. the MHP, Turkey’s oldest far-right party. “If Erdoğan plays at home, the opponent will be at a significant disadvantage.”

According to Alp Coker, an analyst at JS Held consulting firm, Kılıçdaroğlu has long used harsh language regarding refugees. “What has changed is the tone and emphasis of the message,” he said.

Coker argued that this position would likely appeal to a large part of the CHP base, even if it would unsettle some more liberal supporters in major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. It also risks repelling left-wing Kurdish voters who overwhelmingly backed Kilicdaroglu after the Kurdish opposition backed his candidacy.

Still, the energy that propelled a broad coalition of voters to support Kılıçdaroğlu appears to have largely faded, as the leaders of the alliance’s five other parties shun the press and the public because “nobody wants to take on defeat,” Seren Selvin Korkmaz said. , director of the Istanbul Political Research Institute.

– If Kılıçdaroğlu had come out [on election] night and giving his own victory speech, he would have been able to control the narrative, but instead it was a complete failure,” he said. “Now the opposition’s strategy must include consolidating a demoralized base.”

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/2be84ce7-873c-4caf-842f-2ed9786964cd