Muharrem Ince, a burst of energy to Turkey's lackadaisical opposition

07.05.2018

Muharrem Ince, a 54-year-old firebrand lawmaker from Turkey's staunch secularist camp, will be the main opposition's candidate for the presidential election next month, as the party seeks to galvanise its supporters.

The former high school physics teacher, who is married with one child, is seen as a populist who can excite a crowd.

His speeches, widely shared on social media, often sharply attack President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – topics include an expensive new palace and the president's response to the 2016 failed coup – and voice concerns about stubborn unemployment and a decline in democratic norms.

"We are in the league of least-free countries," he cautioned in February, as he fought a losing battle to become chairman of his party, the centre-left People's Republican Party (CHP).

"The hope for our kids, youth is not in the Wahhabi desert," Ince told a responsive crowd, referring to an ultraconservative form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia. "Our direction is towards modern civilisation."

He has bemoaned the government's failure to secure visa-free access to Europe as well as its foreign policy, which has seen Turkey deeply involved in the conflict in Syria on the side of rebels, many with Islamist leanings. "They promised to bring us to Germany ... but we have gotten stuck in the quagmire of Middle East," he has said, warning that Turkey was "breaking away from the modern world."

Ince has served in parliament for 15 years as a member of CHP and hails from the more nationalist wing of the party. He has noted he comes from a conservative family, as he reaches out to a broad base.

While vague on resolving grievances with the Kurds, the largest ethnic minority – he says a country that respects democracy and human rights will automatically fix much of this – he is more clear when it comes to the Alevis, the largest religious minority. "We, as Sunnis, should apologise to Alevis," he said from the parliament floor in 2013, denouncing their unequal treatment by the state over the decades.

Despite pressure from nationalists, some years later he voted against removing immunity from Kurdish deputies and often speaks of reaching out to the troubled south-east.

An animated character, Ince comes across as a loyal follower of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, but one who enjoys being pleasantly uncouth. He often talks with his hands, raises his voice and moves around in a chair while being interviewed. During his hour-long February speech to the CHP he whipped off his suit jacket when he got fired up, finishing his lecture in his shirtsleeves as he paced the stage.

He lost the race to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the incumbent party leader. However, Kilicdaroglu, a former bureaucrat – and accused of having the charisma expected of a retired civil servant – seems to have realised that on the campaign trial, fire and fury might work better.    (dpa)

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