Before The Polls, Erdogan’s Opponent Has Changed The Way He Runs For Office

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leading challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s presidential election, is unmistakably composed and well-mannered in his campaign. Many of his campaign speeches have been made in his typically middle-class Turkish house and shared on Twitter in recordings that some observers have referred to as his “kitchen diaries.”

Sitting down and frequently drinking tea from an “ince belli,” a Turkish teacup, he outlines his important campaign pledges, names potential coalition partners, and occasionally just speaks openly to the populace, effectively inviting them into his home. Such actions go against the aristocratic reputation he and his party once held.

According to analysts, the presidential candidate has undergone image changes over the years in an effort to appeal to today’s electorate. Now that Erdogan has turned his attention to the middle class and the poor in Turkey, these groups are the focus of his communications.

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However, Erdogan is now viewed by his detractors as being primarily to blame for the economic upheaval the nation is currently experiencing, as a result of his inability to rein in runaway inflation, which surveys have indicated will be a major concern for voters on Sunday. The nation’s inflation rate dropped from its peak of 85% in October to 43% in April.

One of the main tenets of Kilicdaroglu’s campaign has been his pledge to revive Turkey’s struggling economy. He stood in the kitchen in a video that was shared on Twitter on Friday, holding out basic foods like bread, eggs, and yogurt to show how much their prices had increased in just a single year. He states: “Today, if you are poorer than yesterday, Erdogan is the only reason” in a separate four-second clip.

The kitchen has evolved into a “symbol” of the candidate, “that he is living a humble (life),” according to Gulfem Saydan Sanver, a political communication expert who collaborates with several members of Kilicdaroglu’s center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP). “That he is dealing with daily life problems of the ordinary Turkish citizens,” she added.

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She stated that “(he) wanted to demonstrate that Erdogan is the one who has forgotten about the issues facing lower-income families.” He might not have chosen to use Twitter to communicate with the electorate, though. The country’s majority of conventional media sources are run by supporters of the government, which has forced the opposition to focus significantly on social media messaging.

Image Issue

Kilicdaroglu had a reputation issue when he took over the CHP in 2010, according to experts. His party was fervently nationalistic and steadfastly secular. Today, however, it has brought together many political figures, is attempting to win over Kurdish voters, and has even welcomed defections from Erdogan’s Ak Party, which has Islamist leanings. Some people who knew him claim that when he seized control of the party, the professional bureaucrat turned politician was viewed as elitist and cut off from the working class, much like the CHP itself. Erdogan’s administration profited from that.

“The government used very much the people-versus-elite distinction… in order to discredit the opposition by showing them as part of some kind of power elite,” said Murat Somer, a political science professor at Koc University in Istanbul. That created a “very hard, ossified, negative image that the opposition could not get rid of,” he told CNN.

Since his natural tendency is to keep his private life to himself, the home videos would have been difficult to envision in the beginning of his political career, according to Mehmet Karli, a CHP member and longstanding adviser to Kilicdaroglu.

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

But there can be drawbacks to the mild manner he exhibits at home. The cooking films, according to Sanver, could be perceived as being too sentimental for some of Turkey’s more contentious foreign policy problems, such as its relations with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the United States.
Erdogan has demonstrated excellent leadership in one of the most difficult problems in the world by making use of personal connections. He was successful in negotiating an agreement on grain exports between Ukraine and Russia with the assistance of the UN, which helped avert a global food catastrophe.

“It’s one of the critiques I had,” Sanver, who has met with Kilicdaroglu throughout his campaign, told CNN. “He needs to look strong because Erdogan is also very strong.”

She suggested that giving certain talks from his office may have helped him project a more serious demeanor while demonstrating that he is still a different kind of leader than Erdogan. Kilicdaroglu has acted quickly to take away the tools of his opponents’ trade in a nation where ethnic and religious identity is frequently a topic of conversation in public and is sometimes used as a political football by some politicians.

He informed the electorate in a video uploaded on Twitter from his office last month that he is a member of the Alevi sect, a small religious group from the east of Turkey that has long complained about persecution in the nation, which is primarily Sunni Muslim. 36 million people watched the video.

“We will no longer talk about identities; we will talk about achievements,” he said. “We will no longer talk about divisions and differences; we will speak of our commonality and our common dreams. Will you join this campaign for this change?”

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