Main opposition parties’ presidential candidate responds to criticism

Main opposition parties’ presidential candidate responds to criticism

Main opposition parties’ presidential candidate responds to criticism

Turkey's main opposition parties, Republican People?'s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) announced Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu as their joint presidential candidate for the August 2014 elections. AP Photo

The former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), nominated by the two major opposition parties represented at the Turkish Parliament as their joint presidential candidate on June 16, has addressed secular voters in his first interview.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have agreed on Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu as their candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for August.

Speaking to daily Cumhuriyet, İhsanoğlu rejected claims that he was “against Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Republic.”

“Such assessments sadden me. Our friends who claim this should look at my past. They should see the positions I have held domestically, including ones that bear the name of Atatürk. It’s completely wrong to reject Atatürk, the reality of the Republic and its gains,” İhsanoğlu said in the interview.

İhsanoğlu’s nomination received general support within the CHP, but a number of dissidents had questioned the choice. Staunchly secular Istanbul deputy Nur Serter, for instance, criticized the party leadership for the unexpected choice, claiming İhsanoğlu “did not represent” the CHP.

“Atatürk has a special place in the heart of the Turkish nation as the hero of the fight for independence and the founder of the Turkish Republic. Contradicting it would be an attitude that doesn’t fit historical reality. For Turkey, Atatürk is what Napoleon is for France or George Washington is for the United States,” İhsanoğlu told Cumhuriyet daily.

Stressing that Atatürk “should neither be consecrated nor rejected,” İhsanoğlu suggested “Turkey should have overcome such debates long ago.”

“Political forces shouldn’t put pressure on religion. Similarly, pressure shouldn’t put on politics through religion,” İhsanoğlu said.

When asked about his chances against the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) possible presidential candidate Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, İhsanoğlu said he’s ready for 45 days of intense campaigning.

“Those who enter a bathhouse sweat,” İhsanoğlu said, quoting a Turkish idiom.

Presidential candidate İhsanoğlu also spoke for the first time in front of a camera early on June 18. "The concialiation of two deep-rooted parties with differing opinions is a very important step for Turkey's democratization process. The most important thing is the realization of the grand conciliation," İhsanoğlu told Doğan News Agency while leaving his house in Istanbul.