Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has had a warm welcome this week in London.
He had several meetings with the members of the Turkish community and his party representatives in London. Addressing the Turkish speaking audiences, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu was outspoken and clear communicating his concerns and policies for Turkey.
The CHP leader’s exchange of views with Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, took place behind closed doors. We were told this, too, was a mutually productive meeting.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party had an hour long discussion with Mr Kılıçdaroğlu and his delegation about recent developments in Turkey. They also talked about Britain’s exit from the European Union, the crisis in the Middle East, and the future of Cyprus.
On Friday, diplomats, academics, representatives of the business community and think tanks gathered at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, for a speech titled “Democracy and Stability in Turkey”, expecting Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu to provide a valuable insight into huge problems facing the country.
During his half-an-hour long presentation, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu did not mention Turkey once. Instead, he spoke, at length, about the dangers of growing populism around the world and the threat it poses for everybody.
As far as a speech about ‘how populist leaders and their governments undermine democracy, the rule of law and freedom of the media’ goes, it was a fine one. Full of metaphors and generalizations, his presentation contained very little analysis for an informed and influential audience, waiting to hear about Turkey.
During the question and answer session, we heard the thinking behind the CHP’s Justice March, about the party’s strategy for the 2019 triple elections, their criticism of the USA, the EU and Greece. Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu had no regrets for his party’s decision to vote with the government to lift immunity for members of the parliament which led to widespread arrests; neither did he think that having Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu as their joint candidate for the country’s first direct presidential election in 2014 proved to be a mistake. For 2019, he would, again, favour a candidate that the other parties would vote for, he said.
To be fair, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu was speaking in London on the day one of his party’s mayors was removed from his post by the government, pointing to further pressure on the CHP. A few days earlier, former CHP deputy Aykan Erdemir was issued with an arrest warrant on spurious charges and all his assets were confiscated.
On Wednesday, Turkish prosecutors launched a new investigation into Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu himself, accusing him of insulting President Erdogan.
Addressing Chatham House, while facing a hostile Turkish media ready to denounce him back at home, is no mean feat.
Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu succesfully argued that his audience should stand up to populist rulers, to those assaulting the foundations of democracy everywhere.
Yet, his message would have had greater resonance if he were better able to explain what he is doing to meet those challenges within his own country.
This post is also available in: Turkish