Interview: Turkish Opposition Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu

  • Kilicdaroglu says aim is to undo Erdogan’s presidential system
  • Says party seeking a consensus candidate for 2019 vote

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party, takes part in the 20th day of a march in Kocaeli, Turkey, on July 4, 2017.

Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, took a break from his 450 kilometer (250 mile)-long Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul on Tuesday to speak with Bloomberg. The 69-year-old leader says his party is seeking to unify what he called the “‘No’ Front" that voted against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an April 16 referendum.

He also said his party’s ready for early elections, that he won’t run against Erdogan for the presidency in 2019 and doesn’t regret his support for a measure on lifting immunity for parliament members, a decision that opened the door to the jailing of several MPs, including one of his own, Enis Berberoglu. Below are excerpts from the conversation, held in a trailer near Derince in Kocaeli province. His comments have been edited for length.

Justice March

The goal of this march is to revive a democracy that’s losing blood and a sense of justice that’s been destroyed. We’ll hold a big rally in Istanbul. We’ll share with the public the reasons for the march and our list of demands. Hopefully everyone will wake up with hope on Monday. This march aims to rip off the shirt of fear which the AKP has made society wear, that’s our real target. So that people can express their thoughts more freely after Monday.

To read Bloomberg’s story on the Justice March, click here

The Ankara-Istanbul route goes through the area where ​​AKP is strongest. There’s been more interest than we expected. Of course there are those who protest us from time to time, but we have not reacted against them. Our response was just to applaud or to call out our slogan: ‘Rights, law, justice.’

Elections Preparation

Early elections may come. We’re pursuing the the same policy we followed in the referendum process, and we are committed to continuing it. We don’t know if there will be an early election or not. Parliament decides on that.

But there is an increasingly authoritarian structure, and problems are growing. Turkey has become isolated not only at home but abroad as well. It’s seen as a country lacking a mature democracy, it is that way. We are already making our preparations as if we are going to have an early election tomorrow. We believe that Erdogan will be definitely defeated during the 2019 presidential election. This march is disturbing him very much, we know it. Erdogan wants to keep up his tough policies, fearing that he will lose.

As a principle, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the chairman of a political party to run for the presidency. But we will go through a process during which we will defend the parliamentarian system of democracy.

Most probably [there will be a consensus candidate]. It’s too early to say today. There was a wide audience in the past referendum that cast ‘No’ votes. Now we have to enlarge this camp. This is one of the aims of this march. Anyone who thinks they’ve faced injustice is supporting this march. It is also aimed at enlarging the cake that is formed by segments of the society who voted ‘No.’

When that stage comes, we’ll sit down and talk. It is not a decision that the CHP will make alone. We will ensure independence of the judiciary. Parliament will remain strong. The executive will be held accountable to the public.

HDP Cooperation

They also participated in this march, they also complain about injustice. We never considered this march as a march of one political party. We even did not use the CHP’s name when it was announced. So if we are able to come together for justice by putting aside our political identities, then that would contribute to the strengthening of relations further.

Lifting Immunity

It was not a mistake, we don’t regret it. Because we don’t want immunity for members of the parliament except for the speeches they make in parliament. I did not make this decision, it was taken during the convention. Secondly, there is no need for a constitutional amendment in order to lift legal immunity. The AKP could remove the immunity of the deputies it wants with its own voting power. Thirdly, there are decisions of the Constitutional Court which say that lawmakers can be tried but they can’t be arrested. Now the Constitutional Court is under the pressure of this climate of fear, it is unable to defend its past decision. Because the palace does not allow it.

Emergency Rule

When the proposal for extension of state of emergency comes, we will oppose it again. There is no need for emergency rule in Turkey.

Presidential System

We see the amendment of the constitution as illegal, it is an illegal change. It has been understood that a gang within the election board has announced that constitutional amendments have been approved. However, we believe the result was ‘No.’ Therefore, we also regard the laws for future harmonization in that context as illegal.

We really took ownership of the ballot boxes at the referendum. No votes were stolen, but there was a violation of the rules by the Supreme Election Board. The board did not enforce the laws, but made a decision that contravened them. We will also take the necessary measures in this regard in the coming period. We will also train our ballot box chiefs in this regard.

Street Actions

If needed, yes [they will continue]. This is not the end to anything; it does not mean “we will rally, okay, it’s over.’’ This is just the beginning.

Justice System

There is no judicial independence. Previously, the judiciary was handed over completely to FETO with a constitutional amendment that was made. The judges are looking to the palace when they make a decision. They think that the more they punish, the more they will rise up in their posts. The main problem with the judiciary is not just that; people who have suffered injustice have serious obstacles in reaching the judiciary. One of the issues we need to address regarding the judiciary is that people close to political power are directly appointed as direct judges by the Ministry of Justice. Another important point: after the civilian coup of July 20 [when emergency rule was declared], an the atmosphere formed that made judges feel obliged to rule for convictions in cases brought to it by the government. If the judge didn’t do that, he would either be arrested or dismissed for FETO links.  

Because of the atmosphere of pressure, the business world can not see what is ahead of it or speak. For example, TUSIAD emphasized the rule of law; Erdogan immediately said: “It’s none of your business, mind your own business.” In other words, he hasn’t recognized the fact that justice and the rule of law are very important for the business world and foreign capital and it is also the backbone of safety of life and property.

One-Man Rule

The main problem of Turkey is the concentration of legislative, executive and judicial authorities in one person. This happens in dictatorships. We already have a dictator. Erdogan’s departure does not solve the problem, the Constitution needs to be re-discussed as a document of social reconciliation. There must be a strong parliamentary system, separation of powers. Our struggle is built on it. A situation in which Erdogan goes and another one-man ruler comes isn’t something we’d accept.

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