Channel NewsAsia

Kurdish candidate eyes breakthrough in Turkey poll

Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas predicted Tuesday he could make it to a second round in Turkey's presidential elections as he presented a radical agenda to counter the bid of the favourite, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

ISTANBUL: Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas predicted Tuesday he could make it to a second round in Turkey's presidential elections as he presented a radical agenda to counter the bid of the favourite, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Demirtas, a 41-year-old lawyer, has been expected to struggle to break into double figures in the country's first democratic presidential elections, which are shaping up as a two-horse race between Erdogan and the opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

But presenting a manifesto based on ending discrimination and transforming Turkey's democracy, Demirtas insisted he was a serious contender and not an also-ran.

"The perception that we will not make it to the second round is completely wrong," Demirtas told reporters in Istanbul. "We are the changing face of this country," he added.

Erdogan is credited with improving the rights of Turkey's biggest minority and is hoping for significant backing from Kurdish voters both in a first round and any potential second round. But Demirtas -- who has been put forward by the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) alliance -- hopes to broaden its appeal and win support from non-Kurdish voters who support his liberal policies.

With his informal style, Demirtas is clearly courting educated younger voters, many of whom accuse Erdogan of behaving like an autocrat after 11 years in power. "We are calling for a new life," Demirtas said. "A new life will flourish when we stand against ethnic, religious, social and sexual discrimination... If freedom means dancing in the moonlight, let's dance together for a new life," he said. Uniquely among the candidates, he promised greater rights for homosexuals as well as women.

"Turkey is at a crossroads," he added, saying the state should become smaller and the citizen stronger. He said Turkey's current constitution should be abolished and a new one drawn up that fully protects rights. "If I win and become president and Erdogan remains the prime minister, then may God help him. He will have to get used to democracy and plurality."

Demirtas also paid a tribute to Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old teenager who died of injuries sustained during last year's violent anti-government protests. During a rally in March, Erdogan provoked the crowd into booing the mother by saying she had accused him of being her son's murderer.

"I'll be the president of everyone -- from seven to 70. That's why I would like to applaud Berkin Elvan's mother, who had been booed in the squares when she was grieving," he said.

Despite his recent troubles from street protests to a corruption scandal, polls suggest that Erdogan will win an outright victory in the first round.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia