Kemal Kilicdaroglu, The Tranquil Force To Save Turkey's Democracy
The 74-year-old veteran politician has a solid chance of unseating Erdogan from power after 20 years. Kilicdaroglu has displayed the kind of calm and open attitude to save Turkish democracy.
ISTANBUL — The world may soon get to know Kemal Kilicdaroglu well. The leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is the presidential candidate of the six-party opposition coalition challenging the lengthy rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Polls now show that the 74-year-old veteran politician and trained economist has a solid chance to garner more than 50% of the ballots in May 14 first round of voting to take the presidency.
If Kilicdaroglu is elected, we’ll witness a long transition period to replace Erdogan, who first rose to power as prime minister in 2003, before moving on to the presidency in 2014 after a Constitutional reform changed Turkey's democracy into a presidential system.
A Kilicdaroglu victory would be a new experience for Turkey, and some of it will be made up on the go — no matter how much planning may go into it.
As for the parliamentary elections, it looks like the combined seats of Kilicdaroglu's “People’s Alliance” and the leftist, pro-Kurdish “Labor and Freedom Alliance” should garner at least 301 seats for the basic majority in the 600-seat parliament. In case they pass to a 360-seat super-majority, the new government may push through Constitutional changes to return Turkey to the pre-2014 parliamentary system.
After 20 years of AKP rule
The optimistic scenario would find a far more active role for the public in the decisions of the state, after the 20 years of AKP rule. The confidence of the citizens will be sky high.
Let’s add the fact that the AKP electorate, who were silent in the face of years of party scandals, will again remember the primary principles of democracy.
I'm among the hopeful.
But that spirit of democracy also means that the new government bloc will face plenty of criticism and political opposition. All of this means that, if elected, Kilicdaroglu would have quite a complicated challenge ahead of him. From what we have seen over the past months of the campaign, with his patience and leadership style, I believe he will be up to the task. Let's be clear: there’s never any point in overpraising a politician which inevitably creates false expectations. Turkey has seen few politicians who did not all but lose their heads in office.
Still, looking at Kilicdaroglu days before the vote, I’m among the hopeful. Three years ago I wrote an article in which I argued that Kilicdaroglu was the natural "peacemaker” for the nation after Erdogan's failed attempt in that role. I still believe that.
Kilicdaroglu and his supporters
I think Kilicdaroglu's peaceful approach would mean more for Turkey’s democracy than any single choice of policy, or even constitutional system. No matter which political system you go with: Parliamentary, presidential or semi-presidential; eventually you need someone to lead that system, follow its rules, who would know his place, and never violate its principles.
No political system becomes democratic simply by the system itself. No less important for democracy is the the dominant mentality, style and the existence of a certain political culture. If the fact that millions of people have come to be apathetic in the face of deep and widespread corruption, this cannot be solved by a constitutional reform alone.
Nobody thinks of equating a general election to a coup.
Britain, for example, is a functioning democracy not because they invented the parliamentary system but because of the commitment to democratic principles. Or in France, millions protest the government, but few ever consider a general election to be a kind of "coup" as some have said in Turkey in recent weeks.
The biggest challenge ahead for the new administration would be combatting the culture of impunity that has been deeply entrenched in Turkish society. Kilicdaroglu, I believe, can lead that battle.
I’m not a dreamer, but you have to start somewhere. And if the challenger defeats the incumbent, the place to start will be with the calm face of the new president.