‘Secular firebrand’ to face Erdogan in Turkish poll

  • Polls show that Ince and Erdogan will be running in the second-round vote for the presidency
  • Ince previously ran as the sole challenger in the previous two-party elections

ANKARA: Turkey’s main opposition CHP has named Muharrem Ince as its presidential candidate against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections on June 24.

Polls show that Ince and Erdogan will be running in the second-round vote for the presidency.

Ince, who comes from a rural background, is known for his opposition to a recent amendment to lift parliamentary immunity that led to the imprisonment of many lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish HDP, including its co-leaders.

A strong critic of Erdogan, Ince has been a CHP parliamentarian since 2002 after spending years as a high school physics teacher.

“I will be everyone’s president, a non-partisan president. The depressing times will end on June 24,” Ince told supporters at a meeting in Ankara, where he was introduced by the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Ince previously ran as the sole challenger in the previous two-party elections, in 2014 and 2018, but failed in both attempts.

Selim Sazak, a researcher on Turkish politics at Brown University’s Watson Institute, said Ince was a compromise candidate between the centrists and the progressives.

“The most immediate meaning is that CHP is playing it safe with its base,” he told Arab News.

“Over the past years, CHP tried reaching across the aisle in both directions. In the 2014 presidential elections, they tried an alliance with the Turkish nationalists, but it failed. A year later, they tried a de facto alliance with HDP in the June 2015 elections. That didn’t go far either,” he said.

Sazak described Ince as a “secular firebrand. He is a gifted orator. He is also a true party man, rose up the ranks, knows the grass-roots very well.”

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said Ince had strong support among the CHP’s grass-roots.

“He is also in a good position to attract the voters of the newly founded center right IYI Party and the HDP in the second round, assuming there is one,” he told Arab News.

Ince’s biggest challenge, according to Unluhisarcikli, will be attracting the conservative vote, a prerequisite for him to win the elections.

Ince’s only scandal is having been photographed drinking beer during Ramadan, a turn-off for conservative voters. In a bid to appeal to Islamist voters, Ince began his election campaign by attending Friday prayers at Haci Bayram Mosque in Ankara shortly after his nomination.

The CHP’s voter support is believed to be 25 percent, while the coalition between the ruling AKP and the nationalist MHP is expected to gain 40 percent of the votes.

To win in the first round of the elections, a candidate needs 50 percent plus one of the votes. Polls indicate a second round is likely to be held on July 8.

On Friday, HDP announced its presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-leader who has been in prison since November 2017 on terror-related charges.

Demirtas, who will run his campaign from behind bars, received about 10 percent of the votes in previous presidential elections where he ran against Erdogan.

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