HomeMiddle EastKilicdaroglu: Bookish Retiree Pushes Erdogan Into Historic Runoff

Kilicdaroglu: Bookish Retiree Pushes Erdogan Into Historic Runoff

A retired official few outside Turkey have heard of 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 Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s supporters frustrated after a heated night of vote counting in Turkey’s most important election in modern times.

The nearly complete results showed Erdogan getting 49 percent of the vote and the secular opposition leader getting around 45 percent.

Pre-election polls had shown that Kilicdaroglu was one step away from breaking the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory.

The lira fell against the euro on investor disappointment that Erdogan’s era of unconventional economics was not coming to an immediate end.

But it still marked a historic achievement for the 74-year-old leader of the strongest opposition alliance to face the man who has never lost a national vote during his two-decade rule.

Kilicdaroglu claimed his own party’s tallies showed he was winning and urged his supporters to protect the ballot box as the last votes were counted.

“Don’t be afraid of the will of the nation,” he told Turkish election officials on Monday morning.

The May 28 runoff will give Kilicdaroglu the chance to reverse a terrible electoral record that has seen him lose his 2009 bid to become Istanbul mayor and then half a dozen national votes in favor of Erdogan and his roots party. islamic

That record nearly broke the six-party opposition alliance when he announced his intention to challenge Erdogan.

The anti-Erdogan 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,” Kilicdaroglu’s nationalist ally Meral Aksener tweeted as the outcome became clear.

– No ambitions –

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

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

The campaign has seen him brush off Erdogan’s personal attacks and instead highlight the hardships all Turks have suffered during years of political and economic turmoil.

One of his main promises is to hand over many of the powers that Erdogan has accumulated in the last decade of his rule to parliament.

He then vows to step down and make way for a younger generation of leaders who have joined his multifaceted team.

“I’m not someone with ambitions,” he said before the vote.

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

– Cooking talks –

Kilicdaroglu’s support has been helped in large part by a cost-of-living crisis that analysts, and many Turkish voters, attribute to Erdogan’s unorthodox economic beliefs.

But he’s backed by a viral social media campaign that circumvents the state’s stranglehold on television by speaking to voters in quick clips recorded from his retro-tiled kitchen.

These candid chats get millions of views and tend to address topics that rarely appear in pro-government media.

One of the most famous saw Kilicdaroglu break taboos by talking about being an Alevi.

The group has been the target of decades of violent crackdowns because it follows a more spiritual Islamic tradition that separates it from Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

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

“God gave me my life,” Kilicdaroglu said in the video. “I am not a sinner.”

The late-night post racked up nearly 50 million views on Twitter the next morning.

– Steel edge –

Some of his other policies have a more steely tone that evokes the nationalism of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first and foremost leader of his Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Kilicdaroglu vows to send nearly four million Syrians who fled the civil war back to their homeland within two years.

He said the problem was not “race” but “resources” in Turkey during its economic malaise.

Kilicdaroglu reaffirms that message by recalling his own humble upbringing in the Kurdish Alevi province of Tunceli.

“We didn’t have a fridge, washing machine or dishwasher,” he once said.

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

It was a clever campaign statement of solidarity with Turkey’s inflation-affected voters that tried to bridge political divisions.

“This is my fight to claim your rights,” he said, standing next to an old-fashioned lamp that shed light on his desk.

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