The chief rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this weekend’s presidential polls on Thursday vowed to transform Turkey as he rallied hundreds of thousands of people in one of the biggest opposition election rallies in years.
A sea of people packed the Gundogdu Square all along the vast seafront area of the Aegean city of Izmir to hear Muharrem Ince, in what is seen as the urban stronghold of his Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Ince has energised the opposition in the campaign for Sunday’s elections with his charisma and ability to take on Erdogan. Many analysts believe he could force the president into a run-off on July 8.
Announcers at the rally said that 2.5 million people were present at the event but it was not possible to independently confirm attendance figures.
Speaking as the sun set over the Aegean, Ince launched a lacerating attack on Erdogan, who he mocked as a “man who no longer has dreams”.
“Erdogan is now a tired man. A lonely man. An arrogant man who peers down on his people,” said Ince.
He joked that even Erdogan “would not lose” if his opponent won the election as Turkey’s double-digit inflation would fall and the president’s retirement plan would thus improve.
– ‘Unite Turkey’ –
Ince reaffirmed his plans for a dramatic first 100 days in power that would see Turkey’s two year state of emergency lifted within 48 hours and the central bank assured of full independence.
He would press on “mercilessly with the fight against terror groups” and do away with a hugely unpopular ID card system for football supporters known as Passolig.
Critically, Ince also vowed to return a Turkish ambassador to Damascus — which would mark a reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and ensure the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey from the civil war go back home.
He pledged to put in place an inclusive cabinet that would include members of all Turkey’s main parties — including Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“We will unite Turkey. We will embrace Turkey,” he said. “Everything is ready. The team is ready,” he added, without hinting which big names from outside the CHP he might be willing to let into the cabinet.
Analysts say Erdogan remains the favourite to win a second term, even if he requires a second round.
Outside of the staunchly secular Aegean coast, Erdogan can still count on a bedrock of support in the more religiously conservative inner Anatolian regions. Yet Ince has also built a momentum rarely seen in the Turkish opposition in Erdogan’s 15 year rule.