The election campaign has finally boiled down to a debate over the “real” nationalists. It is hardly surprising that nationalism, which has been on the rise globally since former U.S. President Donald Trump’s term, remains critically important in Türkiye – which continues to combat terrorists.
That question – who is the real nationalist? – matters because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Nation Alliance’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu are competing over Turkish nationalists among voters. Moreover, some nationalists among the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Good Party (IP) ranks may end up voting for Erdoğan, creating a political groundswell to the incumbent’s advantage.
The main reason behind that possible reaction would be the consolidation of popular frustration over the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group’s (FETÖ) thinly veiled endorsement of Kılıçdaroğlu. Furthermore, the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been making additional demands because they believe they have a chance to become the main player in the left. Specifically, they escalated the already radical demands of Kurdish left-wing nationalists to the level of Abdullah Öcalan’s release from prison.
Together with the Western media’s calls for Erdoğan’s ouster, more and more voters come to see Kılıçdaroğlu as a Westernist that betrays nationalism.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli recently targeted Kılıçdaroğlu with the following: “Those who let the HDP, the Green Left Party (YSP) and separatist terrorists in their inner circle are eager to take revenge from the National Struggle and are in love with disintegration and destruction.”
Likewise, the Great Union Party’s (BBP) Mustafa Destici criticized the IP chair, Meral Akşener, by accusing her of being a “fake” nationalist for joining “the PKK and PKK’s collaborators.”
Campaign events across the country provide rhetorical ammunition for that line of criticism. For example, pro-PKK members of Kılıçdaroğlu’s audience in Van chanted in support of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s imprisoned founder.
Such developments, coupled with Muharrem Ince, head of the Homeland Party (MP), regularly accusing the CHP of having strayed from Kemalist principles, would make it possible to appreciate the political-ideological corner where Kılıçdaroğlu finds himself.
Kılıçdaroğlu pressing all buttons
Having noticed the problem, Kılıçdaroğlu has been pressing all the ideological buttons in recent weeks. Known for his lack of interest in being coherent, he manages to play the leftist, the nationalist, the honest religious man and the pro-Western liberal simultaneously.
It is possible to hear Kılıçdaroğlu talking about the Nation Alliance as an agreement upon the universal principles of liberal democracy and watch him play the Westernist by pledging to agree to the European Union’s terms. Other times, he uses leftist arguments in an attempt to sell the people on anti-imperialism.
Having claimed “true nationalism” at the MHP’s expense just months ago, the opposition’s presidential candidate began to highlight Kemalist nationalism. As a matter of fact, he attempted to push back against the charge of Westernism by releasing a video titled “Neither West nor East – this is the Turk’s way.” In that message, Kılıçdaroğlu insisted that he would take whatever side would serve the Turkish state’s interests. At the same time, he linked his claim to nationalism with the repatriation of Syrian asylum-seekers. That pledge might impress some voters, but he faces an uphill battle when it comes to “the homeland and the flag.”
Due to the thinly veiled endorsement of PKK “commanders” in northern Iraq and HDP’s additional demands, Kılıçdaroğlu finds it increasingly difficult to portray himself as the “true” nationalist. It is no secret that there is a massive gap between leftist-Kurdist nationalists and Kemalist nationalists. Hence Ince, who recently announced his withdrawal from candidacy, and Sinan Oğan, a nationalist candidate backed by the small ATA Alliance, have emphasized that difference. To make matters worse, the PKK and HDP’s unreserved campaign turned the question of “survival” into a very serious concern among voters.
In this article
- 14 May 2023 Turkish General Election
- 2023 Turkish General Elections Presidential Candidates
- 2023 Turkish Presidential Election
- ATA Alliance
- Daily Sabah
- HDP-PKK Relations
- HDP-Terror Relations
- Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
- Muharrem Ince
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Sinan Oğan
- Turkish Foreign Policy
- Türkiye's 2023 Elections
- Türkiye's Foreign Policy
- Türkiye's Homeland Party (MP)
- Türkiye's Justice and Development Party | AK Party (AK Parti)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)
- US President