With Turkey approaching June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, normally divided opposition parties have surprised many by quickly rallying to present a united front against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thanks to his dynamic campaigning and a reformist manifesto, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Muharrem İnce, has emerged not only as a frontrunner among the opposition candidates but as a serious challenger to Erdoğan himself.
İnce discussed with Ahval’s Zulfikar Doğan his plans to reform Turkey’s stricken economy and find a path to reconciliation after 16 years of Justice and Development Party rule.
Ahval: Have you selected an economic team, and have you prepared any plans for handling the economy over your first six months in office?
“We have prepared an emergency reform package for the economy aimed at reversing the lira’s slide and servicing this year’s debts. At the moment we are trying to plan for the coming year day by day.
“The central bank can only halt the lira’s slide temporarily by raising interest rates, because it’s not the case that depreciation fundamentally stems from interest rates being too high or too low. So, the central bank will intervene, but the things that really need to be done are in the political and legal areas.
“Turkey needs to immediately be extricated from a political situation that breeds economic uncertainty, and its economy must be handled by independent and autonomous institutions. My economic team is ready, and we have been working together for a long time.”
Ahval: You launched your presidential campaign by removing your party rosette and telling the country you would be a president for all Turkish citizens. The AKP made similar, ultimately unfulfilled promises in the 2009-2011 period to minorities in Turkey including the Armenian, Alevi and Greek Orthodox communities. Do you have any projects lined up to address these segments of society?
“In Turkey we have a lot of baggage with regards to each of these issues; they have remained on the agenda for years and remain without any firm resolution.
“The solution for all of these is connected with the creation of a strong democratic tradition in Turkey. So there is no need for any specific reforms concerning these issues. The state should not treat these citizens any differently on account of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or any other similar attributes. Such an approach would effectively create a minority status for these groups based on their religious or ethnic identity.
“However, as freedoms increase, rule of law is strengthened, and the obstacles preventing citizens from exercising their rights are lifted, all of these problems will be solved. Diverse religious and ethnic identities can coexist in a place governed in a place with a strong pluralist mindset.”
Ahval: You have promised to reform and restructure the education and exam systems. Do you intend to also address the issues related to academic freedom, such as the government appointment of rectors or the 5,000 academics and thousands of teachers fired by the current government?
“People get into an occupation through the skills and experience they earn through education. To become an engineer, a teacher or an academic you have to first go through a long period of training. That’s why political views should not come into it when candidates are being selected for a role, and they should not be the reason for someone to be fired, either.
“Yet that is what has happened to many of the sacked academics in Turkey, who lost their jobs for airing their opinions (e.g. by signing a petition critical of Turkey’s anti-insurgency campaign against Kurdish militants in the country’s southeast.) Not only have our teachers lost their jobs, they have also been prevented from finding new positions.
“I personally am against the academics’ publication of the petition and against the petition’s contents. But my opposition does not, and cannot make their actions a crime. You can have your say, criticise and even condemn what they have done, as long as you don’t encourage violence. But it is wrong to see them as members or collaborators of a terrorist organisation.
“Those academics and teachers who have been fired purely on account of their political views and without a court ruling will be returned to their positions.”
Ahval - Do you have any reforms planned for military and security institutions, and what will you do about cadres within these institutions that have links to the current government?
“I will reopen military high schools, but am not planning anything for the other institutions you mentioned. It doesn’t matter how those officers obtained their current positions, rather than questioning this, we need to ensure they act now according to the law.”
Ahval: If recent polls prove accurate and you reach the second round of the presidential election, according to regulations you will have just 24 hours to reach a decision with possible alliance partners. Have you discussed terms with any of the other opposition parties in advance?
“This is a topic for discussion once that time comes. My plan is to win the election at the first round of voting.”
Ahval: Finally, Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahçeli has raised the possibility of a general amnesty. Have you thought of declaring an amnesty if you are elected president?
Muharrem İnce: “Reconciliation will not come about as a result of an amnesty ... The solution is not amnesty, but justice. For investigations to be properly conducted and courts to pass verdicts equitably and according to law.”