Erdogan's 'polar opposite' wants to replace him as president of Turkey

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose to the media during a rally on May 21, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)Turkey's opposition on Monday announced Kemal Kilicdaroglu as the presidential candidate to run against two-decade ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an upcoming election that could change the course of the country.

Leader of Turkey's secular and center-left Republican People's Party (CHP), Kilicdaroglu (pronounced Ke-lich-dar-ou-loo) is widely seen as everything Erdogan is not. He was finally nominated after three days of political bickering among the six-party alliance -- just three months before the vote.
His much-awaited selection also came after strong criticism of the opposition bloc for their delay in choosing their frontrunner, which analysts said may have bolstered Erdogan's chances.
    Perhaps the most important election in Turkey's modern history, the vote is expected to take place on May 14.
      It comes just months after a deadly February 6 earthquake rocked the country's southeast, killing more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria. It also falls amid soaring inflation and a currency crisis that last year saw nearly 30% slashed off the lira's value against the dollar.
        Erdogan, who turned 69 last month, is hoping to extend his power well into a third decade. And while the AK Party leader is today facing the fiercest opposition yet to his rule, polls suggest a very tight race between him and the CHP candidate even after last month's earthquake caused widespread disgruntlement in his strongholds.
        But who is the slightly older, bespectacled contender hoping to break Erdogan's 20-year grip on power?

          A follower of Ataturk

          A lawmaker representing the CHP since 2002 -- the same year that saw Erdogan's AK Party rise to power -- Kilicdaroglu, 74, climbed up the political ladder to become his party's seventh chairman in 2010.
          Born in the eastern, Kurdish-majority province of Tunceli, the party leader ran in Turkey's 2011 general election but lost, coming second to Erdogan and his AK Party.
          Kilicdaroglu represents the party formed 100 years ago by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey and a die-hard secularist. He stands in stark contrast to Erdogan's Islamist-rooted party and its conservative base.
          Despite his secular leanings, however, the opposition candidate and his alliance have vowed to represent all factions of Turkish society, which analysts say was demonstrated in his diverse coalition.
          The opposition bloc's roadmap has been clear in its aim to reverse Erdogan's presidential system, moving towards a more inclusive parliamentary system where the president's role holds less power.
          "There will no longer be a centralization of power at the hands of the president," said Mehmet Karli, coordinator of the Program on Contemporary Turkey at the European Studies Centre at Oxford University.
          "The presidency will become a symbolic office and Turkey will revert back to the parliamentary democracy that it was since 1921," Karli, who is also a long-term adviser to Kilicdaroglu, told CNN.
          Kilicdaroglu stands for a more "pluralist Turkish identity," said Karli, where freedoms and liberties are cherished.

          Erdogan's polar opposite

          Sometimes referred to as "Ghandhi Kemal" for both his physical resemblance to India's Mahatma Ghandhi as well as his humble decorum, Kilicdaroglu is seen as Erdogan's polar opposite, analysts say.
          "Kemal Kilicdaroglu is everything President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not," Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute's Turkey program in Washington, DC, told CNN's Becky Anderson on Tuesday. "Erdogan is a rightwing, populist firebrand who has dismantled the country's institutions to establish his one-man rule."
          "He has little regard for expertise or liberal democratic values," she said, adding that while Kilicdaroglu is not as charismatic, "he wants to rebuild the country's institutions, diffuse power and rule with consultations and compromise."
          While both Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan hail from humble socio-economic backgrounds, "they evolved to be completely different creatures," says Murat Somer, a political science professor at Koc University in Istanbul.
          Symbolically, "Erdogan is the shopkeeper, Kilicdaroglu is the bureaucrat," said Somer, referring to Erdogan's businessman-like approach, as opposed to that of Kilicdaroglu, who Somer says is more committed to procedure.