Break bread with Ekmeleddin

2014 presidential election, Commentary, slider

The campaign launch of Erdoğan’s main rival sent us all to sleep. How will he persuade people to vote for him?

Ekmek icin Ekmelledin

“Bread for Ekmeleddin” or “Sow for Ekmeleddin”

Metaphors were flying everywhere at the campaign launch for Turkey’s main opposition candidate for president. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has decided on a campaign theme based on bread: sowing it, reaping it, sharing it. His posters show smiling, diverse families standing in sunny wheat fields. His logo is a Turkish map made of wheat.

It helps that the Turkish words for “sow” and “bread” are the same; it also helps that Turkish people eat three times their own body weight of the stuff every year. And it’s a clever play on the candidate’s name, which has proved notoriously difficult to pronounce for some.

So what did we learn? He doesn’t support his rival Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for changing Turkey’s ceremonial presidency into an executive role. He believes Turkey needs greater separation of domestic powers, particularly an independent judiciary. He thinks the Kurdish problem is the country’s foremost issue and there is a need for compromise to solve it.

He also grumbled about an unfair playing field in this summer’s campaign, complaining that his rival’s machine is better funded and gets more airtime on state television.

It seems one of his campaign strategies is to never refer to Mr Erdoğan by name (always “my opponent” or “the AK Party candidate”), perhaps because he knows his more charismatic rival would always win a personality contest.

He certainly flattered journalists by launching his campaign in front of the press, and for taking questions from them afterwards. Mr Erdoğan’s launch saw him cram his party’s faithful into an Ankara auditorium.

But will it do any good? Smart slogans aside, the launch was excruciatingly dull. His opening speech was long and the inert Mr İhsanoğlu barely looked up from his script. He answered the subsequent questions honestly and in detail, and it is clear that his overriding strategy is to portray himself as the inclusive candidate against the divisive Mr Erdoğan. But no one can escape the fact that he was sending us all to sleep.

WILL CAN HE ACHIEVE?

A victory for Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu would be if he could deny Recep Tayyip Erdoğan an outright first round victory on 10 August. That is the test of any candidate against a personality as strong and popular as the prime minister.

Unfortunately for Mr İhsanoğlu, he can’t draw too much comfort from the latest polling. A Konsensus survey published yesterday did put him on 20.4% against Mr Erdoğan’s 39.1% – a result which would force a second round contest. But it also found nearly a quarter – 22.4% – of respondents were undecided and nearly half of them had voted for the main opposition CHP in the recent Turkish local elections.

Mr İhsanoğlu’s greatest challenge, it seems, will be to persuade supporters of the parties that back him not to stay at home. He has one month to do that.

Last modified: Thursday 7 August 2014

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Break bread with Ekmeleddin

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