Elections in Turkey: the unknown candidate in the West Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu pushed Erdogan to a historic second round

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of the main alliance of the Turkish opposition, speaks at the headquarters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Ankara (REUTERS / Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN /)

A retired civil servant of which few have heard of outside Türkiye has pushed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan into a runoff election, the first in the country’s post-Ottoman history.

It was a bittersweet result that left supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu after a heated night of vote counting in Turkey’s most important modern-day election.

The almost complete results showed that Erdogan had obtained 49% of the votes, and the leader of the secular opposition around 45%.

The pre-election polls gave Kiliçdaroğlu one step away from exceeding the 50% threshold necessary to avoid the second round.

The lira fell against the euro before the disappointment of the investors by the fact that the era of unconventional economy of Erdogan did not come to an end after the elections of this Sunday.

However, for the 74-year-old leader of the strongest opposition alliance, is a historic achievement take on the man who has never lost a national vote in his two decades of rule.

Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu took to the streets after the pass to the second round (REUTERS / Cagla Gurdogan)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu supporters took to the streets after the pass to the second round (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN/)

Kiliçdaroğlu claimed his own party’s tallies showed he was ahead and urged his supporters to keep an eye on the ballot box as the last votes were counted.

“Do not be afraid of the will of the nation”he told Turkish election officials early on Monday.

The runoff on May 28 will give Kiliçdaroğlu the opportunity to reverse a disastrous electoral record that has seen him lose his 2009 candidacy for Istanbul mayor and then half a dozen national votes against Erdogan and his party with Islamic roots.

That record came close to breaking the six-party opposition alliance when he announced his intention to challenge Erdogan. The opposition coalition agreed to back his candidacy after discussing it for a year. They rallied around him after the result of the first round.

“We are winning,” he tweeted. meral aksenera nationalist ally of Kiliçdaroğlu, when the result was known.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu assures that his dream is to
Kemal Kilicdaroglu assures that his dream is to “restore democracy” in Turkey (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN/)

no ambitions

The soft-spoken Kiliçdaroğlu is a study in contrasts with the brash and bombastic Erdogan, a populist whose gift for campaigning has helped make him Turkey’s longest-serving leader.

His silver hair and square glasses give Kiliçdaroğlu a professorial air that betrays his background as an accountant who rose to head Turkey’s social security agency.

During the campaign he has ignored Erdogan’s personal attacks and, instead, has emphasized the hardships that all Turks have suffered during years of political and economic turmoil.

One of his main promises is to cede to parliament many of the powers that Erdogan has assumed in the last decade of his rule.

He also promises that once his term ends, he will give way to a younger generation of leaders who have joined his multifaceted team. “I’m not someone with ambitions”he said before the vote.

His dream is to “restore democracy” and then “sit in a corner, play with my grandchildren.”

Kemal Kilicdaroglu will face Recep Erdogan in the second round on May 28 (REUTERS / Yves Herman)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu will face Recep Erdogan in the second round on May 28 (REUTERS/Yves Herman) (YVES HERMAN/)

kitchen talks

Support from Kiliçdaroğlu has been largely helped by a cost-of-living crisis that analysts – and many Turkish voters – blame on Erdogan’s unorthodox economic beliefs.

But he’s backed by a viral social media campaign that circumvents state control over television and addresses voters in brief clips recorded from his retro-tiled kitchen.

These talks receive millions of views and often cover topics that rarely appear in the pro-government media.

In one of the most famous, Kiliçdaroğlu broke taboos by talking about his Alevi status. This group has been the target of violent repression for decades because it follows a more spiritual Islamic tradition that separates it from Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

“God gave me life,” Kiliçdaroğlu said in the video. “I am not a sinner.” The late-night post racked up nearly 50 million views on Twitter the next morning.

Erdogan once accused the Alevis of inventing a “new religion”.

Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu gathered before the headquarters of the Republican People's Party (CHP) in Ankara (REUTERS / Yves Herman)
Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu gathered before the headquarters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Ankara (REUTERS / Yves Herman) (YVES HERMAN /)

steel edge

Some of his other politics have a sharper edge that evokes the nationalism of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturkthe first and foremost leader of his Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Kiliçdaroğlu promises to return almost four million Syrians who fled the civil war to their homeland within two years.

He said it was not a question of “race” but of “resources” in Turkey during its economic malaise.

Kiliçdaroğlu reaffirms that message by recalling his own humble upbringing in the Kurdish Alevi province of Tunceli. “We did not have a fridge, washing machine or dishwasher.”

She later invited reporters into her dark apartment to discuss her decision to stop paying her electricity bills.

It was a statement of solidarity with Turkish voters affected by inflation who tried to bridge political differences.

“This is my fight to claim our rights,” he said, next to an old-fashioned lantern that illuminated his desk.

With information from AFP

Keep reading:

Elections in Turkey LIVE: Erdogan does not reach 50% of the votes and would face Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a second round

Elections in Turkey: who is Kilicdaroglu, “Gandhi Kemal”, the unexpected leader who challenges Erdogan

Erdogan’s party achieved the worst legislative result since coming to power in 2002