Erdogan rival Kemal Kiliçdaroglu’s promises to stay in the fight

, by Eva Karaduman, Le Courrier d’Europe

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Erdogan rival Kemal Kiliçdaroglu's promises to stay in the fight
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in January 2023. Credits: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CC BY 3.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly two days ahead of the first round of a historic presidential election in Turkey, opposition candidate Kiliçdaroglu is putting all the odds on his side to win.

The opposition, which finally agreed to rally behind a single candidate a few days ago, is neck and neck with the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the polls. Kemal Kiliçdaroglu declared that he is ready to change Turkey’s destiny, and this victory could change the dynamics of EU-Turkey relations.

Restart EU accession negotiations

Years of heated relations under the Erdogan era led the EU Council to estimate in June of 2019 that “accession negotiations with Turkey are [...] at a standstill.” The European Union has thus become a key - yet delicate - topic in this election campaign.

During the Iftar dinner in Ankara where various European ambassadors attended, including Nikolaus Meyer Landrut, the head of the European Union delegation in Turkey, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu pledged to make EU membership his priority, even though negotiations have been going on for more than 20 years. In particular, he promised to solve the visa problem : At the moment, Turkish citizens who seek to travel in the European Union must apply for a Schengen visa - which is long and expensive - and this constraint distances Turkish citizens from the rest of Europe.

The end of the Schengen visa?

A few weeks ago, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament approved the Schengen visa exemption for citizens of Kosovo. Since 2016, the European Commission has been in favor of visa exemption for Kosovars, but also for Turks within the framework of the EU-Turkey migration deal. Nevertheless, Turkey had failed to fulfill the 72 criteria essential to approve the visa liberalization.

In his speech, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said that 6 of the 72 criteria had not been met and that they would manage to overcome the visa issue with Europe “in a short time”.

However, despite the optimistic promises and the possible easing of relations in case of an opposition victory, the situation within the European Union must be considered. A potential Turkish membership could disturb the structural balance of the European Union. With more than 84 millions of inhabitants, Turkey would become the biggest EU-country, and would therefore have a considerable impact on decision-making within the institutions: for instance, it would be the country with more seats in the European Parliament! Moreover, the EU would have to adapt to a brand new geopolitical context, given that Turkey is a land bridge from the Middle East. The concern of this accession is heightened by the European public opinion being skeptical.

Ending of a taboo : « I am alevi »

On April 19, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu shared a video on Twitter that was a turning point in this election campaign. The main opposition candidate decided to break a taboo when he claimed to belong to the Alevi community, an important religious minority in Turkey that is often sidelined and even violently repressed. Moreover, this statement has caused a strong reaction from some members of the outgoing political party AKP:

This video viewed more than 35 million times, the CHP candidate speaks directly was aimed to young people whom he is counting on to win. He presents himself as the one who could be defending repressed minorities in Turkey. Moreover, this April 28, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP called to vote for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. As a reminder, about 20% of the population in Turkey is Kurdish.

In the context of a society polarized over identity issues, this video could bring hope for unification and reconciliation to Turkish youth, important for the well-being and future of the country. This could be the beginning of a historic change. The opposition alliance called “table of six” plans to completely change Turkey, which has experienced various important crises weakening its power.

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