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Kılıçdaroğlu faces prospect of prosecution after presidential runoff

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu could face prosecution on various charges as he is no longer protected by parliamentary immunity following his defeat in a runoff election to incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan was the winner of Sunday’s runoff that will extend his 20-year rule until 2028. He received 52.1 percent of the nationwide vote, while his main rival, opposition candidate Kılıçdaroğlu, got 47.8 percent, according to the preliminary results.

Erdoğan’s ruling Public Alliance, consisting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the New Welfare Party (YRP), won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, 323 out of 600.

As the euphoria of the election victory subsided, statements came from the ruling alliance about a possible prosecution of Kılıçdaroğlu, with MHP Deputy Chairman Feti Yıldız suggesting that the judiciary can now proceed with bringing charges against the 74-year-old CHP leader.

Yıldız has suggested that Kılıçdaroğlu could be subject to prosecution now that he is no longer a member of parliament and thus, his parliamentary immunity has ended, pointing to the 28 summaries of proceedings the parliament has received about the CHP leader.

These summaries of proceedings encompass a range of charges, including insult, threat, slander, praising the crime and the criminal, attempting to influence judicial proceedings, insulting public officials due to their duties, inciting hatred and hostility among the public and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.

Yıldız suggested that these proceedings could now be converted into criminal cases.

In addition Yıldız mentioned that the cases that had previously been opened against Kılıçdaroğlu but stopped due to his parliamentary immunity could now be resumed. He made these statements in a tweet that has attracted considerable attention.

This comes after a tense election campaign in which Erdoğan relied heavily on divisive rhetoric and accused the CHP of working with “terrorists.”

An Ankara court has recently banned access to a doctored video clip that linked Kılıçdaroğlu with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

This video, shown by President Erdoğan at a large rally in İstanbul and broadcast on live TV, was used by Erdoğan to suggest that Kılıçdaroğlu had formed an alliance with the PKK.

Despite acknowledging the video was doctored, Erdoğan defended its use, stating, “Fake or not, PKK members supported [the opposition] with videos.”

In response, Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyer, Celal Çelik, successfully applied to have the video removed, citing it as an “attack on Kılıçdaroğlu’s personal rights.” Çelik also announced that they had filed a lawsuit against Erdoğan for the use of the fake video as “evidence” of the CHP leader’s links to terrorism.

On the same day as Yıldız’s remarks, İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s lawyer denied a pro-government journalist’s claim that an appeals court had upheld a prison sentence against the mayor, who had run alongside Kılıçdaroğlu as a CHP member and future vice president.

In December, a court banned İmamoğlu, one of Erdoğan’s most internationally recognized rivals, from politics for insult charges in a case stemming from his 2019 victory in İstanbul, which was initially annulled. He can keep serving as mayor while the appeals process winds its way through the courts.

The cases made İmamoğlu’s candidacy in the presidential election originally slated for summer extremely risky for the opposition, despite polls showing him beating Erdoğan in a head-to-head race, and arguably helped the candidacy of the bookish Kılıçdaroğlu, who was not as popular.

For some observers, the question of whether or not Kılıçdaroğlu will be prosecuted may be a litmus test for whether President Erdoğan perceives him as a force to be reckoned with.

In a series of tweets, James Ryan from the Foreign Policy Research Institute suggested that the severity of the legal actions taken against prominent opposition politicians could be seen as a measure of how much of a threat President Erdoğan perceives them to be.

Ryan’s tweets drew attention to the case of İmamoğlu, implying that the legal actions against İmamoğlu might be a strategic move by Erdoğan to neutralize a potential political threat as well as to the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who has been incarcerated for the past seven years.

According to Ryan, Demirtaş’s imprisonment and İmamoğlu’s legal troubles could be seen as an indication that Erdoğan perceived them as more significant threats compared to Kılıçdaroğlu.

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