Akşener and Kaftancıoğlu 'represent unprecedented threat' for Erdoğan

İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener and CHP's Istanbul chief Canan Kaftancıoğlu, two women from opposite sides of the political spectrum in Turkey, “represent an unprecedented double threat” for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP, Bloomberg said on Dec. 22.

This collage photo shows İYİ Party leader Akşener (L) and CHP's Istanbul chief Kaftancıoğlu.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will enter 2021 facing the strongest opposition of his career, with İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Istanbul chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu topping the list of his political challengers, said an article penned by Bloomberg on Dec. 22.

Akşener “retains strong nationalist credentials that make her a difficult target” for the alliance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the article said. This is why MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has called on Akşener to join the ruling coalition, which was turned down with the statement of “not even if they put a gun to my head.”

“Known as 'Asena' after a mythical Turkish she-wolf, she [Akşener] makes no bones of her desire to replace Erdogan as president, and ran against him in 2018,” the article said.

Before founding İYİ Party in 2017, Akşener used to be a lawmaker from the MHP. She was however expelled from the MHP on Sept. 8, 2016 for organizing an emergency convention that aimed to challenge the leadership of long-standing Bahçeli.

She then promised to found her new political party. Once she announced the formation of İYİ Party on Oct. 25, 2017, several other MHP members resigned from the party and joined İYİ Party.

Kaftancıoğlu, on the other hand, is an easy and frequent target for Erdoğan and the pro-AKP media, Bloomberg's article pointed out.

“Her supporters say the ferocity of the attacks only demonstrates the degree to which Erdogan and his allies fear Kaftancioglu and her ability to turn out the vote for the CHP,” it said.

Kaftancıoğlu been credited as the person behind the CHP's municipal election victory in Istanbul last year. The CHP’s victory ended the 25 year-rule of the AKP and its predecessor Welfare (“Refah”) Party in the megacity.

In September of 2019, Kaftancıoğlu was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison for old tweets that allegedly spread terrorist propaganda. The CHP has said the conviction is politically motivated and is a “revenge” for the AKP’s loss in Istanbul as the trial began shortly after Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s re-run win.

Kaftancıoğlu appealed the conviction and has not been imprisoned during this appeal process.

Bloomberg's article noted a shortcoming of both Akşener and Kafatncıoğlu, saying it will be hard for them to get the support of Kurds, who make up about 18 percent of Turkey's population, i.e. 14 million out of 78 million people.

“A winning coalition will be hard to pull off without substantial help from the Kurds, but they will be wary of Aksener’s nationalism and are resentful of the CHP’s failure to stand up for Kurdish politicians under attack from the Erdogan government,” the article said.