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Turkey’s main opposition ‘competing against both President and PM’

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“It’s unprecedented, I have two opponents in front of me – the president and the prime minister,” Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, told AFP, challenging Erdoğan to “take up again the leadership of the AKP and lead the campaign.”

Battered and bruised by succesive defeats by the election machine of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s main opposition party faces another uphill struggle in legislative polls on June 7.

But the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its leaderKemal Kılıçdaroğlu think they have found the weak spot where they can really challenge the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: luxurious extravagance and alleged corruption.

Kılıçdaroğlu touched a nerve with Erdoğan earlier this week by alleging he had golden toilet seats at his new presidential palace, a claim the leader angrily and repeatedly denied.

While the CHP — the party of Turkey’s secular modern founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — is given no chance of winning the June 7 elections, a strong score of 30 percent could mean the AKP for the first time loses its overall majority in parliament.

“The authorities are taking, in the most cruel way, billions from Turkish taxpayers and spending them on Mercedes, jets and presidential palaces,” Kılıçdaroğlu told Agence France-Presse in an interview.

The CHP has repeatedly attacked Erdoğan’s new $615 million presidential palace in Ankara as a needless extravagance and also slammed the new $185 million presidential jet.

“If Erdoğan wants an example then he should look towards our own prophet,” he said, referring to the way of life of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Kılıçdaroğlu, a former civil servant, 66, took control in 2010 of a party demoralised by repeated election losses and a sex tape scandal that sunk his predecessor.

The CHP sees itself as the saviour of secular Turkey set up by Atatürk in 1923, against what it regards of the creeping Islamisation of the country under the AKP.

‘Mr Clean’ image

Kılıçdaroğlu is a member of Turkey’s Alevi minority who have traditionally been passionate supporters of the secular system.

While he is in no way the inspirational young leader some in the party yearn for, he has carefully cultivated a “Mr Clean” image which has found some resonance with voters.

Kılıçdaroğlu argues that contrary to AKP’s claims of an economic miracle during its 13 years in power, many Turks remain mired in deep poverty.

“Turkey has become unlivable under the AKP, which has stolen in the most cruel fashion from citizens’ pockets.

“This is not a rich country. Under the AKP we have now 17 million in poverty and 6.2 million unemployed,” he told AFP on his way between election rallies.

President should have remained ‘apolitical’

The CHP has also furious over the extent of Erdoğan’s campaigning in the election, since by rights as president he should remain apolitical and not interfere.

Erdoğan, who served as premier from 2003-2014, became president last year and was also obliged to hand over the AKP leadership to new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

But Erdoğan has been campaigning aggressively for the AKP in the run-up to the polls, in what opponents complain is a flagrant violation of the constitution.

“If you (Erdoğan) are honest, then take up again the leadership of the AKP and lead the campaign,” Kılıçdaroğlu seethed.

“It’s unprecedented, I have two opponents in front of me — the president and the prime minister.”

He rubbished the idea of forming a coalition with the AKP, saying that this would “betray our electorate”.

Kılıçdaroğlu has rammed home his message with rallies up and down the country, backed by a slick advertising campaign that showed people from all walks of life clapping in impatience at the AKP.

“In 13 years they (the AKP) did not resolve a single problem. Just theirs’ and their friends’!” he said to cheers from the crowd at a recent election rally in Istanbul.

“Not another child is going to sleep on an empty stomach. In Turkey in the 21st century we will fight to the end to make poverty disappear,” he added.