A popular YouTube show featuring main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during which he answered questions from young voters on a wide range of topics has gone viral, receiving 12 million views in the first 18 hours.
The political debate program was aired only days before a runoff on Sunday, when the country’s next president will be elected.
The program, “Mevzular: Açık Mikrofon” (Topics: Open Microphone), is moderated by Turkish musician, director, screenwriter and internet celebrity Oğuzhan Uğur on his “Babala TV” YouTube channel.
According to the program format, a senior figure from one of Turkey’s political parties answers questions from a large group of young people and journalists, the majority of whom hold opposing political views to the guest politician.
In the 15th episode of the program, released as a four-hour video on YouTube at around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Kılıçdaroğlu, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s secular rival in the upcoming runoff, garnered attention with his responses to numerous challenging questions.
After introducing himself to the audience, the CHP leader said they could ask him anything they want since what a politician needs is “healthy and consistent criticism,” not praise.
Stating that the 5.3 million young people who cast their votes for the first time this year can “change Turkey’s destiny,” he added, “If we have any shortcomings, we’ll try to fix them. What I ask of you is to listen to your conscience when you go to the polls on Sunday, the 28th. … I want you to consider your own future and vote accordingly.”
When asked about his vow to release former co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş from prison if elected president, Kılıçdaroğlu said Demirtaş hadn’t been released due to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s sway over the judiciary.
Erdoğan and his ruling AKP, in addition to their ultranationalist election partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), accuse the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
Demirtaş has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges, despite four decisions rendered by local courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for his release between 2018 and 2021.
“If there is a decision from the European Court of Human Rights that is not being implemented, if there’s a decision from the Constitutional Court that is not being implemented, and if I remain silent … then why am I involved in politics?” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that he has always advocated for the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
The CHP leader claimed that he had also defended the rights of a new mother who was jailed in 2016 on allegations of links to the Gülen movement.
“My goal and guiding principle are as follows: Wherever there is injustice, regardless of its source or perpetrator, it is necessary for all of us to take a collective stand against it,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
Kılıçdaroğlu was also asked about the time when he didn’t support a woman’s right to wear an Islamic headscarf in public venues and referred to the religious symbol as a “square meter piece of cloth.”
“We need to make peace with each other now. What does making peace mean? [It’s saying] ‘I have faults, the blame is mine, let’s reconcile.’ … I say everywhere I go that we failed regarding the headscarf issue. … One shouldn’t interfere with a woman’s appearance. A woman can dress however she wants,” he replied.
Kılıçdaroğlu also denied having made negative comments on the Togg T10X, Turkey’s first domestically produced electric car, and said it was an important private sector investment.
Although Toggs are designed and assembled in Turkey, components such as batteries, engines and electrical systems are imported. The state has backed the project with tax cuts, free land, low borrowing costs and a government purchase guarantee of 30,000 vehicles a year until the end of 2035.