CHP Istanbul chair says 'dictator' remark constitutes as criticism of presidential system

Main opposition CHP Istanbul chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu has given her testimony in an investigation launched on the grounds of calling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "dictator." She said that her remarks constituted as "criticism" against the executive presidential system and did not carry the purpose of "attacking the personal rights of the president."


The Istanbul head of Turkey's main opposition party, who cannot run in next year's elections but can still play a key role in rallying voters in the nation's biggest city, denied a new charge of insulting the president on Aug. 29. 

Canan Kaftancıoğlu was handed down a ban in June after Turkey's top appeals court upheld a five-year jail sentence against her on charges including insulting the president, meaning she cannot run as a candidate.

Under Turkish law, she was not required to serve the full sentence and was jailed for several hours in May before her release.

Kaftancıoğlu is widely credited for the opposition's victory in Istanbul local elections in 2019, which was the first defeat for President Receğ Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 25 years.

Prosecutors opened a new investigation against her this month over a speech in which she described Erdoğan as a dictator.

In her statement to an Istanbul prosecutor, Kaftancıoğlu said using the term 'dictator' was legitimate criticism since Erdoğan holds wide-ranging powers.

"It is a criticism directed at the president single-handedly having executive powers in the name of government; legislative powers as leader of the political party with a majority in parliament and judicial powers..." she told the prosecutor.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are due by June 2023 and polls show Erdoğan trailing likely opposition candidates while his AKP and its allies look set to lose their parliamentary majority.

The European Court of Human Rights said last year the law on insulting the president, under which thousands have been prosecuted, should be changed.

Critics say Turkish courts are under pressure from Erdoğan and the ruling party, an accusation the government has repeatedly rejected.

Kaftancıoğlu's liberal views put her at odds with the conservative, Islamist-rooted AKP and have made her a target of frequent attacks by Erdoğan and his ministers.

"First of all, I am a woman. Their expectation is for women to not make a sound when someone wags their finger. I think that is one of the underlying reasons for the attacks on my person," Kaftancıoğlu told Reuters in a recent interview.

Another reason was her success in organizing the CHP provincial group, she said.

Under her leadership, the CHP has connected better with Istanbul residents for the first time, Kaftancıoğlu said.

"I have dreams for the world, for Turkey, for women, for politics in Turkey. These dreams frighten today's government."