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article imageTurkey opposition names fiery lawmaker as Erdogan challenger

By Raziye AKKOC and Gokan GUNES in Istanbul (AFP)     May 4, 2018 in Politics

Turkey's main opposition party Friday named a senior lawmaker known for his fiery and impassioned rhetoric as its candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in next month's election, paving the way for a potentially bruising campaign.

The candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP) in the June 24 poll is Muharrem Ince, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu announced.

"On June 24, I will, God willing, be president by the wish of the people," Ince said after being called to the stage at an Ankara rally by Kilicdaroglu.

"For 80 million people (Turkey's population)... I will be everyone's president. I will be an unbiased president," he added.

The candidacy of Ince, a former physics teacher and MP since 2002, was approved at a meeting of CHP MPs where all 110 of its lawmakers voted for him to stand.

Kilicdaroglu had already made clear he would not run.

- 'So-called world leader' -

Ince, who turned 54 Friday, faces an uphill struggle to convince voters, as he is running against Turkey's most experienced and rhetorically-gifted campaigner in the shape of Erdogan.

Yet Ince's greatest political assets are his rhetorical skills and impassioned speeches which have made him a favourite with the CHP faithful in recent years.

"Muharrem Ince is the best candidate the CHP could select in terms of rallying the party base," Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told AFP.

"He will be able to ensure a large turnout of the CHP electorate on election day."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is running for office again in the June 24 election
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is running for office again in the June 24 election
KAYHAN OZER, TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP/File

Ince's tough talking has drawn a sharp contrast with the more bookish manners of Kilicdaroglu, who has led the CHP since 2010 but without ever seriously troubling Erdogan.

Ince twice -- in 2014 and 2018 -- challenged Kilicdaroglu for the leadership of the CHP but failed to oust the incumbent head.

He has generally been more ready than Kilicdaroglu to adopt a gloves-off approach towards Erdogan, raising the prospect of a fierce political campaign.

In his acceptance speech to the CHP meeting, Ince showed he would have no fear confronting Erdogan, describing him as "a so-called world leader (who) is everyday ranting and raving".

Ince said Erdogan's new presidential palace, which opened in 2014 to sneers from the opposition, should be handed over to the youth and made a "home for science".

- 'Political hostage' -

The June 24 parliamentary and presidential elections will be a landmark in modern Turkish history.

After the vote, a new presidential system agreed in an April 2017 referendum will come into force. The CHP has claimed the changes will give the head of state authoritarian powers.

Should Erdogan win, he will receive another five-year mandate which would allow him to press on with a transformation of Turkey that began when he first became prime minister in 2003.

The early stages of the race were dominated by speculation Erdogan's former comrade and predecessor Abdullah Gul could stand against him.

But Gul confirmed last week he was not running, a move Kilicdaroglu said came after pressure in a personal visit from armed forces chief General Hulusi Akar.

Gul said Friday such a visit had taken place but denied there had been "any threat, imposition, or lack of respect".

Another key opposition candidate will be Meral Aksener of the new Iyi (Good) Party that split away from the main nationalist faction in protest at its alliance with Erdogan.

Ulgen said both Ince and Aksener could vie for a place in a second round run-off against Erdogan but he would still need to "cannibalise" some of the conservative vote to beat the president.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is also strongly hostile to Erdogan, has named charismatic former leader Selahattin Demirtas as its presidential candidate even though he is currently behind bars and on trial.

The HDP presented Demirtas as its candidate Friday in two separate rallies in Istanbul and the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir.

"Despite being held a political hostage in a cell, I believe I can fulfil this tough mission," Demirtas said in a message read to the rallies, warning however that the campaign would be "hard and unjust".

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