Turkey's iron lady: 'It's time for the men in power to feel fear'
Turkey's iron lady: 'It's time for the men in power to feel fear' Turkey Turkey's iron lady: 'It's time for the men in power to feel fear'
Nationalist politician Meral AkÅener emerges as only credible presidential candidate pushing for victory over ErdoÄan
Meral AkÅener stood near a statue of the Turkish republicâs founder, Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk, in the Black Sea town of Giresun earlier this year, as she lambasted and mocked the ruling party of president Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan.
His apparatchiks had hurt their hands, she told the farmers in the crowd, counting the millions of euros with which theyâd enriched themselves while in office. Across the square a giant banner implored: âSave us, iron lady.â
Whatever the president touches turns to dust, she said. He once dubbed Bashar al-Assad, Syriaâs dictator and ally turned foe, âBrother Assad.â
âI hope he never calls me Brother Meralâ, she said to roaring laughter.
The 61-year-old AkÅener, nicknamed Asenaor âshe-wolfâ by her admirers, has emerged as the only credible challenger to the incumbent president â " the dominant figure in Turkish politics in the past 16 years â" since he last month called snap elections for 24 June, a year and a half ahead of schedule.
The winner of the presidential poll will assume an executive presidency with sweeping powers that voters narrowly approved in a referendum last year.
Polls show an easy victory for ErdoÄan in the first round, but a much tighter race within the margin of error in the second round if he is pitted against AkÅener.
âBack when everything was up in the air, I was the first person to declare my candidacy against ErdoÄan,â AkÅener, the leader of the Ä°yi (Good) party, told the Guardian. âI have said this since the beginning of the process, in the first round, everyone should simply vote for their own candidate. In the second round, for the sake of our democracy, for our coun try, the opposition should leave aside its bickering and support the opposition candidate, whoever it is.
âThis election is one of the most important elections of our countryâs history.â
The ascendency of ErdoÄanâs ruling and Islamist-oriented Justice and Development (AK) party has been a fact of Turkish political life for a decade and a half. It dominates the conservative and nationalist right after an alliance with the Nationalist Movement party (MHP) of Devlet BahÃ§eli, with whose help it was able to win in the referendum.
AkÅener â" a devout Muslim and granddaughter of immigrants who arrived from Greece in the 1920s during the traumatic population exchanges after the Turkish war of independence â" was a veteran of BahÃ§eliâs party, serving as interior minister in the 1990s, until an insurgent challenge to his leadership forced her to leave.
She is hoping in her presidential campaign to attract both defectors from the AKPâs camp, conservative heartland voters unhappy with the direction of the country and swirling allegations of corruption in the partyâs ranks, and opposition members who are fed up with their political blocâs failure to defeat ErdoÄan in any election since 2002.
AkÅener has pledged to roll back the presidential system, to put the countryâs relations with the EU back on track, and to restore the rule of law in Turkey, where freedoms have been curtailed under a state of emergency in place since a failed coup attemp t in July 2016.
âHaving one person in charge will cost Turkey a lot in the middle and long term. Democracy is malfunctioning in Turkey and we need to re-establish it, and to restore the rule of law and the judiciary,â she said.
âI am a practicing Muslim, I have performed the pilgrimage, but the mind that governs us must rely on laws. The stateâs secularism makes it possible to change laws that are made for people and to change them according to the needs of citizens over time.â
AkÅener emerged as the oppositionâs almost default candidate after Abdullah GÃ¼l, an ex-president and founding member of ErdoÄanâs AKP who fell out with the Turkish leader, decided not to run. The pro-Kurdish Peopleâs Democratic party (HDP) nominated its leader, Selahattin DemirtaÅ, despite his languishing in a prison cell since November 2016.
The Republican Peopleâs party (CHP), a hardline secularist party with limited appeal among religious conservatives t hat has not won an election since 2002, will likely end up backing AkÅener as a candidate who can reach across the aisle.
âTurkey is mainly a right-wing country â" since the country became a multiparty democracy in 1950, the left has ruled for only 17 months,â said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute and author of a biography of ErdoÄan. âHer party will be a serious challenge, at least a major headache to him from his soft flank, the right.â
But that rightwing appeal means AkÅener will also have to contend with the ultranationalist and racist history of her political forebears, a legacy that has earned her Ä°yi party comparisons with Europeâs populist, anti-immigrant wave, a charge she vehemently denies.Someone to watch over me: how AtatÃ¼rk lives on in modern Turkey â" in pictures Read more
The Grey Wolves, the once-paramilitary wing of the MHP, was implicated in numerous incidents of political violence in the 1970s and 80s, the massacre of Alevis, and an attempted assassination of pope John Paul II.
Kurdish voters in Turkeyâs southeast have always been wary of nationalist politicians, and AkÅenerâs tenure as interior minister occurred during one of the worst periods of human rights violations by the state against Kurds in the region.
She will face an uphill battle in convincing them to back her in a possible second round of presidential elections, and she has said little on efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue, speaking in more general terms about preserving the nationâs identity while respecting the rights of minority groups. AkÅener has said her party, headed as it is by the granddaughter of immigrants, is open to all identities.
And, in a male-dominated political culture, she has another message. âNow it is time for them, the men in power, to feel fear,â she said.
- Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan
- Turkey coup attempt
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