By Middle East Affairs
For the first time in Turkish history a woman makes a bid for presidency’s candidacy, Nationalist Meral Aksener started her own political party, the Iyi Parti (Good Party) and seeking to unseat President Erdogan from his position in the upcoming June elections.
She started her own party eight months ago, previously she had been a politician on the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the leading nationalist party for the last 50 years in Turkey.
The MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli agreed to form a coalition with Erdogan, Aksener decided to oppose the president and run against him.
As the nationalists control a large portion of voters, starting her own party was a monumental change to Turkish politics, experts say that she stands to have a chance running against President Erdogan.
One of the problems in her run is that Aksener gets very little airtime, while her opponent Muharrem Ince of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) is steadfast gaining support.
Director of the Istanbul Policy Center think tank, Fuat Keyman said, “Looking at the election mathematics, Ince will most likely be the runner-up and Aksener will follow.”
Aksener is known for her severe nationalist past and has served as an ex-interior minister meaning that it is unlikely that she would find any Kurdish voters among her supporters. Kurdish voters make up one-fifth of the voting electorate.
If no candidate wins a 50 % majority, a runoff election will be held on July 8.
An associate political science professor at Isik University in Istanbul, Odul Celep said that Ince has a better chance of making it to the runoffs than Aksener.
Celep said that Ince has a chance “to solidify the party base but also rally more non-partisan, independent and floating voters around him.”
Aksener has presented herself as a socially conservative practicing Muslim who is a devoted follower of Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but she turns away from comparisons to European far-right politicians such as France’s Front National’s Marine Le Pen.
Her stance on Syrian refugees is harsh and she gained bad publicity she said that she would only share an iftar dinner with refugees in their homeland. Turkey has absorbed more than 3.5 million refugees who fled the war in Syria.
At the same time, she has denied that she would throw refugees out of the country, her forceful rhetoric has nicknamed her the ” Iron Lady” in some foreign media stories.
She has also gone against some policies put in place by Erdogan, she said that if elected she would end the Wikipedia ban in Turkey and remove the state of emergency measure put in place after the failed 2016 coup.
One of the more notable changes is that she has vowed to end the executive presidency put in place by Erdogan, that will be taking effect after June’s election.
MENA director at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft Anthony Skinner said, “She portrays herself as the antidote to the ills that are plaguing Turkey today and is focusing her campaign on rectified governance, justice, and accountability.”
Professor Celeb said that Aksener is a unique candidate, “She is an urban, secular, educated figure with her roots very much in the right wing of Turkish politics.”
Her biggest challenge will be winning over Kurdish voters, who remember her time as interior minister during the deadliest years of the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast in 1996-1997, where countless Kurd’s were murdered, imprisoned, torched and forced to flee.
She has called for the release of Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader and a current presidential candidate who President Erdogan imprisoned shortly after the last elections.
On his imprisonment, she said, “How will Turkey account for this competitive inequality?”
That hasn’t done much to win her any votes among Kurds, the HDP co-leader said that Aksener will not carry any Kurdish voters to her side.
Pervin Buldan said on the Gazete Duvar news website, Starting with me, no Kurd will give their vote to Mrs.Aksener.This absolutely will not happen.”
Other than calling for the release of Demirtas, Aksener has stayed away from engaging with any topics on the Kurdish issue in her platform.
Chairman of the Metropoll pollster Ozer Sencar said that Kurdish and leftist Turkish voters do not like her, and view her as a passionate nationalist, their negative perception of her will likely affect her chances of garnering any real chance of winning in the polls.