The former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), nominated by the two major opposition parties represented at the Turkish Parliament as their joint presidential candidate on June 16, has addressed secular voters in his first interview Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have agreed on Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu as their candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for August.
Speaking to daily Cumhuriyet, İhsanoglu rejected claims that he was "against Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Republic."
"Such assessments sadden me. Our friends who claim this should look at my past. They should see the positions I have held domestically, including ones that bear the name of Ataturk. It's completely wrong to reject Ataturk, the reality of the Republic and its gains," İhsanoglu said in the interview.
İhsanoglu's nomination received general support within the CHP, but a number of dissidents had questioned the choice. Staunchly secular Istanbul deputy Nur Serter, for instance, criticized the party leadership for the unexpected choice, claiming İhsanoglu "did not represent" the CHP.
"Ataturk has a special place in the heart of the Turkish nation as the hero of the fight for independence and the founder of the Turkish Republic. Contradicting it would be an attitude that doesn't fit historical reality. For Turkey, Ataturk is what Napoleon is for France or George Washington is for the United States," İhsanoglu told Cumhuriyet daily.
Stressing that Ataturk "should neither be consecrated nor rejected," İhsanoglu suggested "Turkey should have overcome such debates long ago."
"Political forces shouldn't put pressure on religion. Similarly, pressure shouldn't put on politics through religion," İhsanoglu said.
When asked about his chances against the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) possible presidential candidate Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, İhsanoglu said he's ready for 45 days of intense campaigning.
"Those who enter a bathhouse sweat," İhsanoglu said, quoting a Turkish idiom.
Presidential candidate İhsanoglu also spoke for the first time in front of a camera early on June 18. "The concialiation of two deep-rooted parties with differing opinions is a very important step for Turkey's democratization process. The most important thing is the realization of the grand conciliation," İhsanoglu told Dogan News Agency while leaving his house in Istanbul.