İnce: I want to solve Turkey's Kurdish problem

Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has vowed to address issues crucial to Turkey’s large Kurdish minority during a rally on Monday in Diyarbakır, the largest city in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

This was the first of İnce’s roughly 80 rallies in the run up to the Jun. 24 elections to be broadcast from beginning to end on national television, with three major channels – NTV, CNN Türk and HaberTürk – showing the rally uncut.

During an interview on NTV last Saturday, İnce criticised Turkey’s mainstream media for its lack of coverage of opposition rallies, despite showing many speeches by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the incumbent in the presidential election, uncut from beginning to end.

İnce’s energy and wit during his dozens of rallies across Turkey have struck up a buzz of excitement in an opposition that at the beginning of the campaign looked badly overmatched by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

With the undivided attention of three major channels on him, CHP candidate’s speech to the crowd in Diyarbakır was another energetic performance that included the elements which have been fundamental to his campaign speeches so far: vows to develop the country’s economy and industry, and mockery of Erdoğan’s performance on the campaign trail.

“We will open factories. You can’t spend the whole time at the coffee house,” he said, referring to the president’s promise to open free coffee houses for the public. “The tea’s free, you’ve spent your day eating cake, but what are you going to have to eat when you get home?”

The CHP candidate went on to question the projects offered by Erdoğan – including a stadium and a large park as well as the coffee houses – at one point suggesting these more befit a town mayor than the president of a country.

Of more importance to many of the natives of Diyarbakır would be İnce’s vow to allow children to be taught in their mother tongue, a central issue for the Kurdish political movement that has remained unresolved over 16 years of AKP rule, despite reforms which relaxed previous administrations’ laws against the use of Kurdish.

İnce repeated a pledge first made early in his campaign, saying children will be taught three languages in Turkey: the country’s official language, Turkish; their parents’ language, “be it Kurdish, Arabic, or Circassian;” and one foreign language.

This was just one of the evening’s comments designed to increase İnce’s credibility with Kurdish voters, the majority of whom tend to keep their distance from the CHP, which is associated with anti-Kurdish policies of previous nationalist governments.

İnce made a symbolic move at the beginning of his campaign, removing his party badge and promising to be a president for the entire Turkish population, and he again made heavy references to the ideas of compromise and reconciliation.

Kurds would be given the respect they wish for, and Turks’ fears would be allayed under his presidency through negotiation in parliament, said İnce.

“Does (Erdoğan) want to solve the Kurdish problem or not? I do,” said İnce. “It’s a problem of political ethics as much as it is a cultural, economic and democratic one.” he went on, suggesting that politicians made empty promises on the issue while in the southeast, before changing their tune in different parts of the country.

The CHP candidate promised to resolve the controversy over religious education, another thorny issue in Turkish society, by allowing students to elect to take religious classes in school as they see fit.

With the distinct possibility of the presidential election going to a run off between İnce and Erdoğan, the Kurdish vote could prove decisive in picking the next president.