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Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

Turkey's Opposition Names Kemal Kilicdaroglu As Presidential Candidate

Turkey's Opposition Names Kemal Kilicdaroglu As Presidential Candidate

It took more than a decade and some bitter defeats for Kemal Kilicdaroglu to secure the Turkish opposition's trust and become its torchbearer in May's crucial parliamentary and presidential polls.
It took more than a decade and some bitter defeats for Kemal Kilicdaroglu to secure the Turkish opposition's trust and become its torchbearer in May's crucial parliamentary and presidential polls.

For better or worse, the 74-year-old former civil servant's bookish ways have stood out in sharp contrast to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's brash and bombastic style.

But Kilicdaroglu, an ethnic Alevi who has led the Republic People's Party (CHP) since 2010, has worked hard to sharpen his image -- while transforming his party's rigid line.

Under his aegis, the leftist CHP -- created by the mostly Muslim country's secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- has embraced minority groups it once kept on the sidelines, including the Kurds.

At the risk of outraging the party's rank-and-file, Kilicdaroglu has also forged alliances with right-wing parties and championed socially conservative women's right to stay veiled at school and work.

A former close colleague, Riza Celikkol, described Kilicdaroglu as "very hardworking and disciplined", while others have dubbed him "Turkey's Gandhi" for his soft-spoken manners.

'March for justice'

Kilicdaroglu, who prefers to be known as "the quiet force," took years to hone his tone and make a meaningful national impact.

One of his defining moments came in 2017, when he launched a "march for justice" from Ankara to Istanbul to protest the jailing of a CHP member of parliament.

At the time, few dared to stand up to Erdogan, who was busy unleashing purges that saw tens of thousands jailed or stripped of their government jobs in the wake of a failed 2016 coup.

The march allowed Kilicdaroglu, who studied finance and headed Turkey's social security system before unsuccessfully running for Istanbul mayor in 2009, to emerge as a leader not afraid to confront Erdogan.

Two years later, Kilicdaroglu's CHP swept to power in Turkey's most prized cities, including Ankara and Istanbul, where it ended 25 years of rule by Erdogan and his party.

Kilicdaroglu's tone hardened and confidence grew on the back of these unexpected wins, which cracked Erdogan's aura of political invincibility.

"This is my fight for your rights," Kilicdaroglu proclaimed last year from the darkness of his apartment, its power cut after he refused to pay the bills in solidarity with others suffering from Turkey's years-long economic crisis.

'Mr. Kemal'

Kilicdaroglu has since developed a knack for showing up unannounced at government buildings, the media in tow, demanding to see ministers about various social grievances.

He has charged the statics agency with cooking the books to hide the true scale of Turkey's runaway inflation, and accused business bosses of enriching themselves through plump state contracts.

Kilicdaroglu also came out swinging after a massive earthquake killed more than 45,000 in Turkey and 5,000 in Syria last month, accusing the government of lax buildings standards and corruption.

Despite these seeming successes, even his own backers question whether Kilicdaroglu pssesses the kind of charisma needed to take on Erdogan -- a tireless campaigner who comes alive on stage.

Born in the historically rebellious eastern Tunceli province, which has a Kurdish and Alevi majority, Kilicdaroglu could struggle to win over conservative Sunni voters that make up the core of Erdogan's support.

Not respecting certain rites of Islam, Alevis have faced discrimination and even massacres in the dominantly Sunni country.

If elected, Kilicdaroglu would be the first Alevi to head the Turkish state.

Somewhat dismissively, Erdogan refers to Kilicdaroglu as "Bay Kemal", or Mr. Kemal, an informal form of address rarely used in adult conversations.

Married with three adult children and now a grandfather, Kilicdaroglu once described the early years of his life with his wife Selvi as "modest".

"We didn't have a fridge, washing machine or dishwasher," he once recalled.

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