Can Turkey’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu win over key rival to defeat Erdogan?

ANKARA – Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is on a mission to unify ranks among several candidates in his bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Wednesday, he met with candidate Muharrem Ince as negotiations began between the two to expand support for the opposition.

Kilicdaroglu is looking to increase the electoral chances of the country’s six-party opposition bloc, known as the “table of six,” against Erdogan.

With Ince alongside, Kildaraoglu struck a positive tone after the one-hour meeting, saying they were working to increase the table.

“We want to be together. … Mr. Ince is certainly as sensitive as I am to Turkey’s problems” Kilicdaroglu said.

Ince declined to announce he was withdrawing from the race, but did not completely rule out a potential alliance. “Erdogan must go,” he said. “We can get this country back on its feet.”

With less than two months until the tightly contested May 14 elections, the country’s main electoral blocs, led by Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, are scrambling to expand their alliances.

Last week’s tacit support from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) greatly boosted the CHP-led opposition bloc, with the Kurds being the king’s favorite. However, the move risks alienating nationalist supporters of the table of six. Known for his nationalist leanings, Ince’s participation in the alliance could prevent those risks as well.

Ince’s support would increase Kilicdaroglu’s chances of winning the race in the first round.

“The majority of their votes come from the opposition’s voter base,” Ulas Tol, director of research at the Istanbul-based Social Impact Research Center, told Al-Monitor.

As a former violinist of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ince ran against Erdogan in the 2018 presidential race, winning more than 25% of the vote. On the night of that election, he conceded his victory to a journalist via text message, which upset many of his supporters and party activists who were still counting ballots at the time. Ince, who apologized several times, later resigned from the CHP and formed his own Memleket or Homeland Party.

According to Tol and many other watchers, especially young voters who will cast their first ballots in May pay tribute to Ince.

The division of votes in the four-candidate presidential race — which also includes Sinan Ogan, a former member of the Erdogan-affiliated Nationalist Movement Party — increases the possibility of a runoff. something the six-party coalition was trying to avoid.

“The second round will take place after the parliamentary race is concluded. Therefore, the side that got the majority of the parliament in the second round will have a psychological advantage,” said Tol.

About 15 percent of “dissatisfied voters” are angry with the two main electoral blocs, he said, and some may support the bloc that won the parliamentary majority for the sake of stability.

Turkey is grappling with crippling inflation, and the two earthquakes on February 6 that killed more than 50,000 across 11 Turkish provinces have made the country’s woes even worse.

Critics of the government see the upcoming polls as a last chance to reverse the country’s democratic backsliding and institutional decay under Erdogan’s executive presidency. However, polls show Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party are still strong.

Berk Esen, associate professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University, warns against the demonizing rhetoric between the rival opposition camps.

“There is a big anti-Erdogan front. … But it is still a struggle to mobilize this front around a common candidate,” Esen told Al-Monitor, adding that those efforts can be further hindered by joint proposals between rival opposition camps.

According to Esen, the negotiations between Ince and Kilicdaroglu regarding a possible electoral alliance will continue.

A source familiar with Ince seconded that, insisting that the former CHP violinist was close to canceling his candidacy in return for some political gains from the six-party alliance.

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