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Can Turkey's Kemal Kilicdaroglu win over key rival to defeat Erdogan?

While playing hardball, Turkish presidential candidate Muharrem Ince hasn’t ruled out a potential electoral alliance against Erdogan. 
Turkey ince

ANKARA — Turkey's main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is on a mission to unify ranks among several candidates in his bid to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Wednesday, he met candidate Muharrem Ince as negotiations started between the two to broaden support for the opposition.

Kilicdaroglu is looking to boost the electoral chances of the country's six-party opposition bloc, also known as the “table of six,” against Erdogan. 

Flanked by Ince, Kilicdaroglu struck an auspicious tone after the one-hour meeting, saying they were working to enlarge the table.

“We are trying to be together. … Mr. Ince is, certainly, as sensitive as I’m when it comes to Turkey’s problems” Kilicdaroglu said.

Ince refused to announce his withdrawal from the race, but did not completely rule out a potential alliance. “Erdogan has to go,” he said. “We can get this country back on its feet.” 

With less than two months until the tightly contested May 14 elections, the country’s main rival electoral blocs, led by Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, are scrambling to expand their alliances.

Last week's tacit support from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has been a major boost to the CHP-led opposition bloc, as the Kurds stand to be the top kingmaker. The move, however, also risks alienating nationalist supporters of the table of six. Known for his nationalist tendencies, Ince’s involvement in the alliance could fend off such risks as well. 

Ince’s support would increase Kilicdaroglu's chances to win the race in the first round. 

“The majority of his votes come from the opposition's voter base,” Ulas Tol, director of research at Istanbul-based Social Impact Research Center, told Al-Monitor. 

As a former veteran of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ince ran against Erdogan in the 2018 presidential race, winning more than 25% of the vote. On the night of that election, he conceded his defeat to a journalist via text message, frustrating many of his supporters and party activists who were still counting ballots at the time. Ince, who repeatedly apologized, later resigned from the CHP and set up his own Memleket or Homeland Party.

According to Tol and many other pundits, particularly young voters who will cast their first ballots in May revere Ince. 

The division of votes in the four-candidate presidential race —which also includes Sinan Ogan, a former member of Erdogan-allied Nationalist Movement Party — increases the possibility of a runoff poll, which the six-party alliance has been seeking to avoid.

“The second round will be held after the parliamentary race is concluded. Thus, the side that has secured the parliamentary majority will have a psychological advantage in the second round,” Tol opined.

Some 15 percent of “disgruntled voters” are indignant with both main electoral blocs, he added, and some can support the bloc that won the parliamentary majority for the sake of stability.

Turkey is grappling with breakneck inflation, and the twin earthquakes on Feb. 6 that killed more than 50,000 across 11 Turkish provinces have further exacerbated the country’s woes.  

The government critics deem the upcoming polls as a last chance to reverse the country's democratic backsliding and institutional degeneration under Erdogan’s executive presidency. However, polls show Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party still maintain a plenty of heft.

Berk Esen, associate professor of political science at Istanbul's Sabanci University, warns against the demonizing rhetoric between the rival opposition camps.

“There is a large anti-Erdogan front. … Yet it is still a struggle to rally this front around a joint  candidate,”  Esen told Al-Monitor, adding that mutual vilifications between rival opposition camps can further obstruct these efforts. 

According to Esen, the negotiations between Ince and Kilicdaroglu over a potential election alliance will go on.

A source familiar with Ince seconds that, arguing that the former CHP veteran was close to rescinding his candidacy in return for some political gains from the six-party alliance.

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