Facts about presidential candidates for Turkey's June 24 elections

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published

On Turkey's snap parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June 24, six presidential candidates will compete against each other on the ballots. Here are the profiles of the candidates:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - AK Party

Born in 1954, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan entered politics in the conservative National Salvation Party (MSP) led by Necmettin Erbakan in 1976 and became the head of the party's youth branch in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district, where his native Kasımpaşa neighborhood is located. He later became the head of the Istanbul youth branch.

Following the 1980 military coup, he joined the newly-established Welfare Party's (RP), becoming Beyoğlu district chairman in 1984 and Istanbul provincial chairman in 1985.

Erdoğan has only lost one election in his political life. In the 1989 local elections, he became the Welfare Party's (RP) candidate for Beyoğlu. Despite coming in second, he raised the RP's votes from 5 percent to 22 percent in the district.

In 1991, he ran for the parliament and obtained necessary votes, but could not take his seat due to an alliance between the RP and two other right-wing parties.

After that, he became the mayor of Istanbul with 25 percent of the votes in a tightly contested race in the 1994 local elections. Erdoğan's term saw many of Istanbul's chronic problems, including water shortages, lack of proper landfill areas and pollution in the Golden Horn solved in a short period, earning him nationwide fame. He served four months in prison in 1999 for reciting a poem by famous Turkish poet, Ziya Gökalp, in the eastern Siirt province in 1997, in the aftermath of the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup targeting conservatives. He was dismissed from his mayoral post.

Following the closure of the RP and its successor the Virtue Party (FP)'s closure by the Constitutional Court all amid a growing clash of ideas with the 'elders' of Erbakan's National Vision movement, Erdoğan and many other leading party figures established the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2001.

Under Erdoğan's leadership, the AK Party has won every election, including five general elections in 2002, 2007, 2011, June 2015 and November 2015 and three municipal elections in 2004, 2009 and 2014. He also won the presidential elections in 2014. The changes brought forward by the AK Party in three referendums, with the latest being on April 16, 2017 on the switch to the presidential system, were also accepted by popular vote.

In his youth, Erdoğan was a semi-professional footballer. He has five titles during his seven years at the İETT amateur football club. The stadium of the local football club in the district where he grew up, Kasımpaşa S.K., which is currently competing in the Turkish Super League, is named after him.

He has been married with Emine Erdoğan since 1978 and has four children named Ahmet Burak, Bilal Necmettin, Esra and Sümeyye.

Muharrem Ince - CHP

Muharrem Ince, 54, began his career as a physics teacher and served in high schools and prep schools until he entered politics with the Republican People's Party (CHP) in 1995 in his hometown in northwestern Yalova province. He ran for Parliament in the 1995 general elections, but couldn't get elected. İnce then served as CHP's Yalova provincial chairman starting from 1998. He ran from the CHP as a deputy candidate from Yalova in the 1999 general elections, but the party failed to pass the 10 percent national threshold and polled poorly in Yalova.

Ince was elected as a parliamentarian four consecutive times in 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2015 from the CHP. He is known for his fierce debates with other deputies in parliament. His fiery rhetoric and populist style brought him fame and he was singled out from other CHP candidates.

He failed twice to win against CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for party chairmanship. In the 2014 congress, 740 delegates voted for Kılıçdaroğlu while Ince received the backing of 415 delegates. In a 2018 congress, 790 delegates voted for Kılıçdaroğlu, while Ince received 447 votes.

Ince secured CHP's nomination as a presidential candidate on May 4 as the only candidate that does not hold party chairmanship.

He has been married with his wife Ülkü since 1983 and has a son named Salih Arda.

Meral Akşener - Good Party

Meral Akşener was born in Kocaeli province in 1956. Initially an academic working in the field of history, she was also involved in right-wing politics since her brother was serving as Kocaeli provincial chairman from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Akşener entered politics from the center-right True Path Party (DYP) along with many former MHP figures and nationalist politicians. She unsuccesfully ran for mayor in Kocaeli in the 1994 local elections and served as the head of the DYP's women's branch before being elected to Parliament in 1995. She served as the interior minister of Turkey between November 1996 and June 1997 in the coalition government with RP, which was forced to resign by the military in the Feb. 28 post-modern coup. She was elected again in 1999. In 2001, she was initially among the cadres that went on to establish the AK Party, but left over disagreements and joined the MHP in 2001.

After an unsuccessful bid for Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor in the 2004 local elections, Akşener returned to Parliament in 2007 along with the MHP, which had failed to pass the 10 percent threshold in the 2002 elections. She served as deputy parliament speaker and gained popularity for her conciliatory attitude among different parties. Akşener was elected two more times in 2011 and June 2015, but as she grew increasingly opposed to chairman Devlet Bahçeli, she was not nominated for the Nov. 2015 elections, in which the MHP's votes fell from 16.3 to 11.9 percent and seats from 80 to 40.

From that point on, Akşener launched her bid to run for MHP chairmanship. In June 2016, Akşener was dismissed from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) along with prominent party figures including Sinan Oğan, Koray Aydın and Ümit Özdağ, as a result of a heated intraparty debate with Bahçeli that ended up in courts. She formed the Good Party (IYI Party - IP) with other MHP dissidents and center-right figures in October 2017. The MHP formed the People's Alliance with the AK Party.

She is the only female presidential candidate in the elections. If elected, she will be the first woman president of Turkey. Previously, Tansu Çiller, a professor of economics, served as the first female prime minister of Turkey between 1993 and 1996.

Akşener has been married with her husband Tuncay since 1980 and has a son named Fatih.

Selahattin Demirtaş - HDP

Born in the eastern province of Elazığ in 1973, Selahattin Demirtaş is the youngest presidential candidate. Before entering politics, he worked as a lawyer specializing in human rights issues mainly related to the Kurdish community, PKK suspects and convicts.

Demirtaş joined the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2007, which was later banned due to its links to terrorism along with its other pro-PKK predecessors. He was elected as an independent parliamentarian from southeastern Diyarbakır province the same year. He joined the newly-established Peace and Democracy party (BDP) in 2010 and was elected chairman in its first congress. He was elected as a Hakkari deputy again in 2011.

In 2014, he became the co-chair of the HDP, which transformed itself to a larger coalition of pro-PKK parties with several socialist, liberal and green groups. The party's other co-chair that served alongside Demirtaş was Figen Yüksekdağ, who was the previous leader of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), which is widely regarded as the political organization of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MKLP) terrorist group. Demirtaş was credited for the HDP's success in broadening its voter base and extending its appeal to western Turkey, enabling the HDP to pass the threshold with 13.1 and 10.7 percent of the votes in the June and November elections in 2015. However, the party failed to sever its links with the PKK and act as an independent actor in the Kurdish question. When the three-year-long reconciliation period between the government and the PKK collapsed in July 2015, HDP officials and mayors came under heavy criticism for their support to the PKK.

Demirtaş is currently arrested and on trial for several terror-related charges, including inciting the Kobani riots in Oct. 2014, in which 31 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in clashes between pro-PKK/HDP protesters with the Islamist Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) followers and security forces.

He also ran in the presidential elections in 2014. While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took 51.79 percent of the votes and won the elections in the first round, Selahattin Demirtaş had 9.76 percent and came in third after the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.

In a forum at the Brookings Institute in 2015, Demirtaş said that he does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization and instead defined it as an "armed public movement."

Demirtaş has been married with his wife Başak since 2002 and the couple have two daughters named Delal and Dılda.

Temel Karamollaoğlu - SP

Born in 1941, Temel Karamollaoğlu is the oldest candidate in the elections, nicknamed the "Wise President" by his party members.

Karamollaoğlu is the only candidate who went abroad for his higher education. He graduated from the Science and Technology Institute of Manchester University in 1964 and completed his master's degree at the same university in 1967. When he returned to Turkey, he served many years in the State Planning Organization before entering politics.

Karamollaoğlu entered politics in the National Salvation Party (MSP) in 1977, the predecessor of the SP. He served two terms as a deputy in the central Sivas province, which is also his hometown, from 1977 to 1980 and for the RP from 1996 to 2002.

He also served as the mayor of Sivas for the RP between 1989 and 1994. His term saw the Madımak Massacre, in which 35 people, mostly Alevi intellectuals, were killed when the hotel of a delegation that had arrived in the city for a cultural festival was set on fire by a mob on July 2, 1993. The role of Karamollaoğlu, some municipality officials and RP members in the incident remain controversial to this date.

Karamollaoğlu was elected as the SP's chairman on Oct. 2016.

He organized e-meetings for the first time in Turkish political history in this campaign period. He explained his pledges and responded to questions from the public via his e-meetings.

While studying in Britain in 1965, Karamollaoğlu married his wife Ayşe Yasemin, who converted to Islam and later acquired Turkish citizenship. The couple have five children.

Doğu Perinçek - VP

Doğu Perinçek, 75, has a volatile political life. His father Sadık Perinçek served as the deputy chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Turkey and a parliamentary deputy from the center-right Justice Party (AP) in the 1950s and 1960s. Junior Perinçek also studied law, but adopted socialism as his ideology.

Perinçek was among the prominent names of the 1968 student movements, serving briefly as the head of the Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey (DEV-GENÇ), which formed the core of many splinter far-left movements in the second half of the 1970's. In 1968, the group led by Perinçek formed the Aydınlık magazine, which is currently being published as a newspaper since 1974. Despite relatively lower circulation numbers, Aydınlık served an important training ground for many prominent journalists that later rose to nationwide fame.

In 1969, Perinçek and his splinter group founded the illegal far-left/Maoist Revolutionary Workers' and Peasants' Party of Turkey (TIIKP). Perinçek and other TIIKP members were persecuted in the aftermath of the March 12, 1971 military coup along with other groups related with the National Democratic Revolution (MDD) ideology, which called for a coup by left-leaning officers in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) that was later known as the March 9 junta. Other MDD related groups, including TIIKP splinters, tried to launch guerrilla uprisings for a brief period but failed to receive popular support and overcome security forces. Perinçek was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was pardoned in 1974, however, he continued facing lawsuits for trying to infiltrate the TSK.

Perinçek later established the legal far-left/Maoist Workers' and Peasants' Party of Turkey (TIKP). The party's Maoist stance and close relations with different cliques in the Turkish security apparatus left it in a fiery clash with other left-wing groups who were mainly pro-Soviet but were functioning underground. The party was shut down in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup and faced the biggest scrutiny among legally functioning parties. Perinçek was sentenced to eight years but released in 1985. He began publishing another influential magazine named 2000'e Doğru (Towards 2000) in 1987, which adopted an openly pro-Kurdish tone in addition to socialist and center-left views. The magazine was discontinued in 1993 amid heightened clashes with the PKK and a harsh security crackdown by the state that the magazine helped uncover many human rights violations and "deep state" operations in dozens of cases.

In 1991, Perinçek established the Socialist Party (SP), which was shut down by the Constitutional Court. A year later, the Workers' Party was established and continued functioning until 2015, when the party was rebranded as the Patriotic Party (VP), reflecting a change in the party's discourse. Beginning in the mid-1990's, Perinçek brought a pro-Eurasianist and anti U.S./EU stance to the forefront while actively supporting the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup based on secular concerns, but maintained a focus on labor issues. This new tone was regarded as far-right by many, appealing to a newly-emerging voter base described as neo-nationalists.

He was convicted by a court in Switzerland, where denying the "Armenian genocide" is criminalized, for his rejection of genocide allegations in a series of conferences in 2005. After an 11-year struggle, the Supreme Court of Switzerland overruled his judgment.

Amid decades of close ties with the so-called Eurasianist wing of Turkey's NATO-dominated military and having recruited many former generals to the IP's ranks, Perinçek was also a fierce AK Party opponent since 2002, advocating that the party is being backed by the U.S. and the EU and should be removed from power. He also began advocating for an active fight against the PKK, opposing the reconciliation period. He was one of the earliest and leading critics of the Hizmet Movement led by Fetullah Gülen, often pointing to its close ties with the U.S. and its illegal activities.

He was implicated in the Ergenekon investigation and sham trial launched by police chiefs and judiciary members linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and detained in 2008 along with many other critical figures. Convicted to 117 years in prison in August 2013 on charges of running a terrorist group, attempting to overthrow the government and inciting armed rebellion against the government, Perinçek was released in March 2014 and the Supreme Court of Appeals overruled convictions and ordered for a re-trial in April 2016, with the prosecutor demanding the acquittal of dozens of suspects including Perinçek.

Perinçek claimed an active role in preventing the July 15, 2016 coup attempt launched by FETÖ-linked officers in the military and praised the government in the aftermath for launching an active fight against the terrorist group, while fiercely criticizing the center-left CHP, which is believed to have lost more voters to the VP than any other party. Despite a decades-long political career, Perinçek has never held public office with his parties, showing poor performances in the polls (VP received 0.25 percent of the votes in the Nov. 2015 elections.)

He advocates for the immediate closure of the U.S.' İncirlik Air Base and for the developing of relations with Russia and China. He also asserts that Turkey should develop relations with the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.

Perinçek married his wife Şule in 1974. He has four children named Zeynep, Kiraz, Mehmet and Sadık Can Perinçek.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter