CHP’s presidential candidate Muharrem Ince gives a campaign speech in Ankara on Friday. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition has accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of creating difficulties for his political rivals ahead of next month’s elections, inviting the incumbent to “Come and let’s race like men.”
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) announced Muharrem Ince as their presidential candidate on Friday.
In a campaign speech in his hometown of Yalova on Saturday, Ince accused Erdogan of making it “difficult” for candidates to run by accusing them and their supporters of backing the Gulen movement, making up lies, and jailing HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas.
“Can there be such a race?” he asked. “Come and let’s race like men.”
Ince is known for his opposition to Erdogan’s policies. He has also tried to form good relations with Kurds, saying that he has never voted in favor of lifting immunity of lawmakers.
“I have not done this for the purpose of gaining the hearts of Kurds or gaining votes, but because I had faith in it,” he said.
Demirtas is one of a group of HDP parliamentarians currently imprisoned on terror-related charges after the parliament voted to lift immunity for a select group of MPs. The vote on the matter in parliament was secret.
So far the memberships of eleven of HDP’s deputies have been revoked by Turkish parliament.
Other CHP members have joined the call for Demirtas to be released.
“The presidential candidates have been confirmed. The candidates will go out to the arenas and ask for votes. HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas is held in jail in an unlawful manner. Therefore, he cannot campaign. This shame and injustice should be ended. Demirtas should be released immediately,” said Baris Yarkadas, CHP MP for Istanbul.
“HDP's candidate Selahattin Demirtas’ trial has been determined and he has not been sentenced. And he's still in custody. The imprisonment of a candidate and a politician who has completed all the obligations and has been nominated for the presidency will cast a shadow over the electoral justice. He should be released,” said Eren Erdem, CHP deputy for Istanbul, joining the call.
“Selahattin Demirtas, who was officially nominated as a presidential candidate by HDP, is still a member of parliament and has no final conviction. His being in custody is unjust and is a violation of law and principles of the election... S. Demirtas should be released immediately,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, CHP deputy for Istanbul and human rights activist.
HDP is not necessarily impressed, however. Ziya Pir, representative for Diyarbakir, called them out for throwing their support behind Demirtas at the last minute. "Where were you before today?" he asked on Twitter. “Be honest, honest!"
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan poses for a photo on the campaign trail in Istanbul on Friday. Photo: Kayhan Ozer/Turkish President Press Office/AFP
Ince was first elected to the parliament in 2002. He ran for his party’s presidency but was beaten by the current CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
He promised “domestic unity” within Turkey if elected president during his speech in Yalova.
“First of all – domestic unity. I will bring together Sunnis and Alevis, and I will bring together Turks and Kurds.”
In a sign of solidarity, Ince urged CHP supporters to add their signatures to the campaigns of other potential presidential candidates to help them reach the mandatory threshold.
The Turkish election commission (YSK) has announced that candidates who represent a party that does not have over 20 MPs in the parliament must collect 100,000 thousand signatures from voters in order to be eligible to run for the presidency.
Ince expressed his opposition to this requirement.
“I am instructing CHP members and urging our citizens… to sign for anyone who wants to be a candidate. This is democracy… Democracy is not wanting something for yourself, but to want something for others,” he said.
Turks will go to the polls on June 24.
The CHP has formed a coalition with the Iyi (Good) Party, the Islamist Saadet Party, and the Democrat Party to run for the parliament.
HDP’s presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas pictured in Edirne prison on Friday. Photo: HDP
They have excluded HDP from their coalition, reportedly due to the party’s support for the Kurdish question and its alleged connections with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a named terrorist organization in Turkey.
HDP has nominated imprisoned Demirtas as its candidate for the presidency. Pervin Buldan, co-chair of HDP, tweeted photos of the moment they submitted Demirtas’ documents to YSK.
The beleaguered party is campaigning in difficult circumstances. Their announcement of Demirtas’ candidacy was broadcast live on social media and not picked up by the country’s major TV stations.
Sezai Temelli, Buldan’s co-chair, tweeted on Saturday that his passport has been “confiscated.”
He encouraged the youth of the party to run for office.
“Come and become candidates. Come to organize politics together. Let’s be organized in our neighborhoods, streets and workplaces. The way will not be paved for Turkey in a place where youths are not present.”
Updated at 11:39 pm