Why Muharrem Ince Is a Headache For Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

May 11, 2023

The CHP elite, with their media power, often threaten Muharrem Ince and accuse anyone who does not support Kılıçdaroğlu of being an “Erdoğan supporter.”
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the People's Republican Party (CHP) stands next to the head of the Homeland Party Muharrem İnce. Photo by Anadolu Images


he unprecedented rise of Muharrem İnce, which caused alarm in the opposition bloc, has intensified after the February 6 earthquakes, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy, the rapid round-trip crisis of the İYİ Party at the “Table of Six,” and the nomination of former AK Party (Justice and Development Party) members as deputy candidates in CHP (Republican People’s Party) lists. In other words, Kılıçdaroğlu’s choices were perhaps more influential in the rise of İnce than İnce himself.

Kılıçdaroğlu and his team were quite pleased when Muharrem İnce announced his resignation from the CHP in February 2021. Especially after the 2018 elections, the power struggle and fraction between İnce and Kılıçdaroğlu escalated, with İnce becoming a burden to Kılıçdaroğlu. After İnce’s resignation, political figures close to him were also purged from the CHP, and İnce was subjected to a character assassination. First, the media power of the CHP headquarters targeted the relationship of trust between İnce and the party base, based on what happened on the night of the election.

Although it has now been forgotten, it was implied by Kılıçdaroğlu that “İnce went to the Külliye (Presidential Complex) and made an agreement with President Erdoğan,” and İnce was accused of treason. These and similar accusations were circulated by the CHP media every time İnce was mentioned. This effort has been largely successful, and, in this way, by using the CHP’s institutional power, Kılıçdaroğlu managed to dismiss his only serious rival in the party.

Contrary to what is believed or has been calculated, İnce did not stop being a threat to Kılıçdaroğlu after his resignation. On the contrary, he became a candidate in the 2023 elections despite the efforts of opposition media and their elites. For Kılıçdaroğlu, İnce’s status as a rival and threat within the party turned into a new threat that has the potential to win votes from the “Kemalist” grassroots. Although not a serious contender for the presidential elections, İnce’s candidacy was not calculated, but instead was overlooked and pushed to the side. For this reason, as elections approached, İnce became one of the greatest enemies of the opposition media and its elites: all the media power started once again to target him.

The unexpected rise of Muharrem İnce

In my analysis for “Sabah Perspektif” on February 13, 2021, I wrote that the most rational choice for İnce was to become an important and strategic actor within the multiparty opposition bloc. In other words, I argued that instead of making unattainable claims, İnce could be successful with small but rational and achievable goals. The way to achieve this was to have a discourse and position that would attract Kemalists who were dissatisfied with the CHP and secular nationalists who could not find what they were looking for in the IYI Party.

Over the past two years, the opposition bloc led by Kılıçdaroğlu has almost ignored İnce. İnce, whose name was not even mentioned when the “Table of Six” was set up, was persistently excluded by the opposition bloc. However, his unexpected rise alarmed the opposition, and was heightened after the February 6 earthquakes.

At this juncture, İnce reinforced his rhetoric of the “Third Way” with a Kemalist and nationalist populism, which has been frequently used by all newly emerging parties trying to differentiate within the opposition. Especially the IYI Party’s decision to leave the “Table of Six” after Kılıçdaroğlu announced his candidacy, Meral Akşener’s statements which harshly denounced Kılıçdaroğlu, and the party’s return to the table after two days of crisis disturbed some of its secular nationalist bases.

At this point, İnce’s strategy once again proved that, although it is a trite cliché, the “Third Way” being a necessary and worthwhile discourse. İnce managed to attract the attention of this constituency with his rhetoric. In addition, he managed to attract the attention of some voters, the majority of whom were young, with his oratory talent and energy that Kılıçdaroğlu lacked during the campaign period. So much so that İnce has become one of social media’s most popular political figures. Again, with his activeness in the field, he transformed the emotional reaction towards politics after the February 6 earthquakes into partial support. This increased the interest in İnce, especially among opposition voters.

The opposition’s miscalculation

Considering all the intimidation policies targeting İnce, the reasons for the political pressure and attacks by the opposition media and its elites can be better understood: İnce emerged as an alternative candidate for the Kemalist voters who are excluded from the “CHP’s institutional transformation” project, implemented for some time now by Kılıçdaroğlu. These voters have been pushed to a secondary level, humiliated at the slightest criticism, and considered the sole culprits of all past mistakes.

So much so that İnce became the only actor who disrupted Kılıçdaroğlu’s game plan which gathered all opposition actors, including the HDP, under one roof, managing to get their support in a political equation in which Sinan Oğan was ignored in terms of vote rating. In other words, İnce, who was forcibly purged from the CHP, now has a critical position despite not being taken seriously during the opposition’s negotiations and being excluded from the opposition bloc in which parties with even  0.1 percent of votes became actors.

Kılıçdaroğlu and his team have taken a position that directly disrupts the political strategy they have been building for a long time. The opposition elite’s “İnce hatred” stems from the possibility that, from their perspective, with the Kemalist votes stolen from the base of the CHP, İnce could cause Kılıçdaroğlu to lose the election even if he, in turn, does not win.

İnce, the least guilty party

However, despite all his personal ambitions, İnce is the least guilty party. Although it is clear that İnce’s sole motivation is his political gain, the only culprit here is Kılıçdaroğlu’s political mistakes and short-sightedness. The first big mistake was persistently excluding a person who received 30 percent of the votes in the last general elections during negotiation efforts in which unknown names were visited, support was requested from them, and they were even invited to an alliance under the name of “electoral cooperation.” The second big mistake was that until İnce became a presidential candidate, his rise as an alternative choice with his populist Kemalism and nationalism was not taken seriously.

What is more, İnce, who was ignored until the election process started, whom the CHP and its media tried to discredit, who was not given a chance to exist politically, and who was even accused of treason, is now exposed to political harassment by the oppositional media. Rather than interviewing and asking questions, even the journalists who feature İnce in the media, try to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy. The reason for this is that İnce exposes the danger of the deterioration of the strategy that Kılıçdaroğlu and his team have built by attracting quite openly different constituencies whose only common motivation is their opposition to Erdoğan.

So much so that the CHP elites, with their media power, are establishing community pressure based on the threat of prestige assassination and lynching, by accusing everyone who does not support Kılıçdaroğlu of being an “Erdoğan supporter.” On the other hand, Ince is stealing votes from different opposition electorate clusters, which the opposition has forced together with a stick. These votes are not enough for him to win the election, but they increase the risk of another electoral defeat for the opposition.

As a result, İnce has become a game changer in a political strategy constructed over a long time especially by Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP administration. İnce, who was excluded by the opposition and forcibly pushed out of its circle, has no fault here. İnce has not achieved any tangible success apart from excited addresses and populist slogans. The absolute failure here belongs to Kılıçdaroğlu and his team who did not take İnce into account and whose only strategy has been, when necessary, to forcibly block any potential political alternatives. The only reason the CHP elites target İnce and try to discredit him in the eyes of the opposition public is that he manifests the concrete consequences of their political miscalculation and a potential loss of votes.

Baki Laleoğlu has graduated from Bilkent University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration. His research interests include government systems, political parties, modern Turkish history and Turkish political life.