Opposition candidate laments Turkey’s “society of fear”

Turkey has become a “society of fear” where citizens are afraid to openly show political leanings at odds with the ruling party, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, told the Financial Times.

“We have become a society of fear … Public servants are afraid of taking a photograph (with me). Shopkeepers wonder whether, if they attend a Muharrem Ince rally, a tax inspector will arrive tomorrow,” İnce was quoted as saying in an article by Laura Pitel and Funja Guler, published on Friday.

İnce has breathed life into a race that was initially seen as almost a foregone conclusion when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in April that snap elections would be held on Jun. 24, around 18 months before they were due.

The ruling party, however, still has the advantages of an uneven playing field, and enjoys a vast amount of media coverage, as well as compliant government bodıes - as the rector at a university that hosted İnce on the campaign trail discovered. The rector was forced to step down by the education authority days later.

Even so, spirited performances during interviews and campaign rallies from İnce, together with the unified front formed by opposition parties and signs of weakness in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has given the opposition fresh hope of an unlikely first victory in sixteen years of AKP rule.

İnce has made efforts to reach out to voters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), visiting their presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş in prison, where he is held on terrorism charges, and calling for his release to participate in electoral campaigning.

The CHP candidate denies, however, the need for similar efforts to reach out to the AKP’s conservative voter base, telling FT that as the child of a conservative family he does not need any “special persuasion skills.”

İnce’s performance has placed him as a credible rival to Erdoğan in the presidential race, where voters from diverse opposition parties are likely to get behind the CHP candidate if the race takes him to a head-to-head second round facing the incumbent.