Turkey’s soft-spoken Kemal Kilicdaroglu takes on powerful Erdogan

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Slowly however certainly Kemal Kilicdaroglu has modified Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party right into a vote-winner

They name him Gandhi Kemal due to his calm nature, trademark spectacles and moustache. His excessive calm may even drive his personal colleagues loopy, one shut confidant says.

And but 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu – pronounced Kilitch-daro-lu – has the largest probability up to now of unseating Turkey’s most powerful man, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since he took energy 20 years in the past.

A soft-spoken former civil servant, he’s the very antithesis of Turkey’s grandstanding, powerful president.

He has misplaced a number of elections since he took cost of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2010, when his predecessor was compelled out due to an extra-marital affair.

Perhaps not the plain candidate, then, for six opposition events uniting behind a single individual to problem Mr Erdogan.

And but Kemal Kilicdaroglu is a extremely skilled politician. He was elected in 2002, the identical yr Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party got here to energy. He has survived a string of violent assaults, incomes the repute of being one in every of Turkey’s most-targeted politicians.

In his 13 years as chief, he has broadened his occasion’s enchantment and “embraced all the different colours in the country”, as he places it.

Image supply, NECATI SAVAS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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Other occasion figures corresponding to Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu (2-R) and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas (L) have been additionally seen as presidential candidates

The CHP charts its origins again to Turkey’s fashionable secular founder Kemal Ataturk.

It was lengthy thought-about near the navy, which has overthrown the federal government 4 instances since 1960, and was all the time seen as a hardline occasion on the difficulty of dividing church and state. After the navy coup in 1980, for instance, it supported the ban on headscarves at colleges and public providers.

Born in December 1948, Kemal Kilicdaroglu was the fourth of seven kids introduced up by a housewife and civil servant within the jap metropolis of Tunceli. He comes from an Alevi household – a definite Islamic sect, and spiritual minority in mostly-Sunni Turkey.

He was a star pupil on the many faculties he attended as his household following his father’s job round Turkey and later studied economics at Ankara University.

He spent years as a civil servant in Turkey’s monetary our bodies and received a repute for hunting down corruption as director of the overarching Social Security Institution.

After seven years in parliament, he was chosen to run for one in every of Turkey’s most powerful and prestigious roles, the mayor of Istanbul. Although he misplaced the race, he received reward for his marketing campaign and have become a really credible runner-up for the CHP with 37% of the vote.

Within a yr of that success, the chief of the CHP resigned after a secret video tape emerged of an affair – and Mr Kilicdaroglu unexpectedly discovered himself as prime candidate for the job.

Image supply, ADEM ALTAN/AFP

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Kemal Kilicdaroglu has struggled up to now to boost his occasion’s help above 25%

Initially he refused to run for the management, not wishing to make the most of a scandal. But his stance softened and he received the race by a landslide.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was by now on the peak of his energy, changing into Turkey’s most profitable modern-era prime minister by profitable nearly half the vote for his Justice and Development or AK Party in 2011 elections.

The CHP got here a distant second, however elevated its vote by 5 proportion factors. Its chief has since struggled to transcend profitable 1 / 4 of the vote, engulfed in occasion politics.

More on Turkey’s 2023 elections

But in his 13 years in cost he has led a quiet revolution inside the occasion. He has tried to make peace with the Islamists by means of gestures like attending Iftar dinners to interrupt the quick throughout Ramadan, and has erased the occasion’s previous militaristic codes.

“When I first met him, I thought that he was not a revolutionary leader but an evolutionary one,” mentioned former occasion colleague Melda Onur.

“He locks on to his target, sticks to it with incredible serenity, and by the end you’re convinced. He is very decisive when he thinks that is the right thing to do.”

That is why she believes it took him 13 years to reshape his occasion and safe its backing to run for the presidency.

True to his background, he has additionally maintained strict monetary self-discipline. “He is very careful about not spending any extra for anything unnecessary,” mentioned shut affiliate Okan Konuralp.

In time he launched non secular figures, Kurdish activists and ladies’s rights activists to the occasion – to show to Turkish society that the CHP has modified.

“The CHP has a very male dominant structure, he couldn’t pull down that wall completely but he likes to work with women,” mentioned Ms Onur.

Image supply, Alp Eren Kaya HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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Six events have mixed forces to problem Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a single candidate

One occasion colleague informed the BBC he by no means raised his voice.

“Sometimes things drive us crazy and we cannot help but scream. Even then, Kilicdaroglu keeps his calm,” he mentioned.

The second anybody enters the room, he stands up and shakes fingers, by no means talks to individuals sitting behind the desk, and by no means interrupts anybody, his colleague mentioned.

This soft-spoken nature coupled with a passing bodily resemblance to the previous Indian chief have given risen to his nickname Gandhi Kemal.

As has his peaceable response to bodily assault.

He was punched twice by a customer in parliament in 2014 whereas about to offer a speech to his occasion’s MPs. Despite struggling a bruised cheek and eye, he known as on colleagues to maintain calm: “The path to democracy is full of obstacles.”

In 2016, his convoy was attacked by a missile by the Kurdish militant group the PKK after which the next yr he escaped an tried bombing by the militant Islamic State group.

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Kemal Kilicdaroglu was attacked in a soldier’s funeral in Ankara in 2019

He survived an tried lynching in 2019 at a soldier’s funeral. As he got here underneath assault he was taken to a close-by home the place a girl urged the gang to burn it down.

When police ushered him to security he mentioned afterwards: “These attempts cannot stop us.”

But it was after the failed 2016 coup that Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s repute unfold past Turkey.

As President Erdogan cracked down on dissent, arresting and sacking hundreds of Turks seen as linked to the coup plotters, the opposition chief launched a “March for Justice”, strolling 450km (280 miles) from Ankara to Istanbul.

Image supply, Erhan Demirtas/NurPhoto by way of Getty Images

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Holding an indication saying “Justice” in Turkish, Kemal Kilicdaroglu rallied opposition towards the president

Despite the success of his march, he selected to not problem for the presidency the next yr, ready one other 5 years to grab his probability.

Not an apparent candidate, it took him months to persuade different opposition events to again his bid. The CHP has higher audio system, and arguably higher-profile figures who received the race for mayor in Istanbul and Ankara.

But together with his major rival at his weakest, occasion colleagues imagine that is their chief’s second.

He has additionally succeeded in uniting six opposition events – which in any other case have little in frequent – behind him.

“I have never heard a word of hatred from his mouth. He could be angry with someone but keeps calm and then forgives that person easily,” mentioned Okan Konuralp.

“That’s how he could work together with politicians who were strongly opposed to him in the past.”

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