Erdogan’s opponent underwent a political makeover ahead of the elections in Türkiye

Erdogan’s opponent underwent a political makeover ahead of the elections in Türkiye
Erdogan’s opponent underwent a political makeover ahead of the elections in Türkiye

Reporting by Elizabeth Wells, in the CNN Middle East newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter (click here)

(CNN) — Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition candidate in Turkey’s presidential election, is keeping quiet in his bid to end President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-decade rule.

Much of his campaign message was delivered from his middle-class Turkish home and posted on Twitter, in videos dubbed “kitchen diaries” by some observers.

He would often sit down over a cup of Turkish tea, lay out his key campaign promises, announce the members of his potential coalition, and sometimes speak candidly to people, virtually welcoming the audience into his home.

Such gestures are in stark contrast to the elitist image he and his party once enjoyed. Analysts say the desire to appeal to today’s voters has changed the presidential candidate’s image over the years. His messages now target Turkey’s middle class and the downtrodden, the very class Erdogan has always championed.

But Erdogan’s critics now see him as responsible for the economic turmoil the country faces, largely due to his inability to control hyperinflation, an issue polls said was high on the agenda of voters going to the polls on Sunday. . The country’s inflation rate was 43% in April, down from a peak of 85% last October.

For Erdogan’s opponents, this fuels the campaigns against him.

The promise to fix Turkey’s ailing economy was a cornerstone of Kilicdaroglu’s campaign. In a video posted to Twitter on Friday, he stood in the kitchen holding basic items like bread, eggs and yogurt, reminding viewers of how much they have increased in price in a year. In a separate four-second clip, he says, “Today, if I am poorer than yesterday, the only reason is Erdogan.”

The kitchen has become a “symbol” for the candidate, said Gulfem Sedan Sanfer, a political communications expert who works with several politicians in Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party, “and that he lives a modest (life), dealing with the daily life problems of ordinary Turkish citizens.” .

“He wanted to show that it was Erdoğan who had forgotten the problems of low-income families,” she added.

However, his use of Twitter to reach out to voters may not have been entirely his choice. Government loyalists control the majority of the country’s mainstream media, leading the opposition to rely heavily on social media messaging.

image problem

Experts say that when he assumed the presidency of the CHP in 2010, Kilicdaroglu had an image problem. His party was fiercely secular and fiercely patriotic. Today, having united disparate political players, he is trying to co-opt Kurdish votes, and even welcomed dissidents from Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party.


According to some who knew him, the career bureaucrat-turned-politician was seen as elitist and detached from the working class when he took control of the party, just as the CHP itself was. Erdogan’s government benefited from this.

“The government has used a lot of distinction between the people and the elite… in order to discredit the opposition by showing it as part of a kind of ruling elite,” said Murat Sommer, a political science professor at Koc University in Istanbul. He told CNN it created “a very rigid, ossified, negative image that the opposition could not shake.”

Mehmet Karli, a CHP member and longtime advisor to Kilicdaroglu, said it was difficult to imagine home videos in the early days of his political career due to his tendency to keep his private life to himself.

“He has come to realize over the course of his life … that private and public political life are very much intertwined, especially if one is leading a movement,” he told CNN.

But the soft demeanor shown in his home can have downsides.

Sanfer said the kitchen videos are likely too vulnerable to some of Turkey’s most difficult foreign policy issues — including relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the United States.

Erdogan has been able to capitalize on personal connections and has shown effective leadership on one of the world’s most difficult issues. Along with the United Nations, he managed to broker a deal on grain exports between Ukraine and Russia, which helped prevent a global food crisis.

“This is one of the criticisms I’ve heard,” Sanfer, who met with Kilicdaroglu during his campaign, told CNN. “He has to look strong because Erdogan is also very strong,” she added.

She said that delivering some messages from his office might help him build a more serious personality, while showing that he is still a different leader from Erdoğan.

In a country where ethnic and religious identity often plays a role in public discourse and is exploited by some politicians, Kilicdaroglu moved quickly to deny his opponents material against him.

In a video posted to Twitter from his office last month, he announced to voters that he belongs to the Alevi sect, a minority religious group from eastern Turkey that has complained of years of persecution in the Sunni-majority country. The video has been viewed 36 million times.

“We will no longer talk about identities. We will talk about achievements. We will no longer talk about divisions and differences. We will talk about our commonalities and our common dreams. Will you join this campaign for this change?” he said.