İhsanoğlu: Strong messages, weak packaging

İhsanoğlu: Strong messages, weak packaging

Supported by a number of opposition parties against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu launched his election campaign in Istanbul on June 10, bidding to be elected the next Turkish president a month ahead the first round on Aug. 10.

Criticizing the government for squeezing the election campaign into just a month, and saying he was relying only on individual donations while Erdoğan uses all his capacities as prime minister - especially the government-controlled public broadcaster TRT - İhsanoğlu stressed that the Turkish people had foiled the calculations of those holding power in the past, against all odds.

He launched his campaign with a plain, rather modest press conference, despite reports that Erdoğan was preparing for a festival-like kick-off on July 11, inviting singers, actors and actresses, popular figures and all his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) deputies, as well as the media.

It is not yet clear whether journalists will be able to ask questions to Erdoğan today, just like they couldn’t when Erdoğan announced his candidacy, but yesterday they had the chance to ask questions and get answers from İhsanoğlu.

His messages are strong in content, and can be summarized as follows:

- The campaign is based on moderation, instead of antagonism. When asked, İhsanoğlu said that if he was elected he did not think there should be a problem in working with PM Erdoğan, with whom he has “excellent” personal relations.

- İhsanoğlu supports an improvement of the current parliamentary system, not a strong presidential system with less checks and balances like Erdoğan supports. “What we need is a constitutional change for the better, not a regime change,” he said.

- On the Kurdish issue, he said “peace” should be maintained in Parliament with transparency, in order to secure the consent of a majority of people. He said the use of mother tongue for people was essential, “like mother’s milk for a baby.”

- On foreign policy, he criticized the government for diverting from Atatürk’s line of “Peace at home, peace in the world” and losing friends. He said Turkey’s credibility should be restored.

- “There is no prosperity without free thought and no democracy without freedoms” İhsanoğlu also said, adding that the understanding of government “with a stick in the hand” (while criticizing the government’s stance during the Gezi protests) should be dropped if Turkey wants to be a “member of the European family.”

These are all strong messages with content. But what was missing in the launch of İhsanoğlu’s campaign was perhaps the packaging of the messages. İhsanoğlu already has the disadvantage of not having the background of an ambitious politician like Erdoğan; if he wants to stop Erdoğan from winning the race in the first round of voting, he should create enthusiasm for the ballots, at least among the CHP and MHP opposition voters. In order to achieve this he should quickly find a way of delivering his messages in a more concise and catchy way.