Opponents of President Tayyip Erdogan say they would restore the harm done to human rights during his reign, vowing a new era of democracy and freedom if he is defeated in an election on Sunday.
With Erdogan facing his biggest electoral test yet, rights supporters believe his loss would bring an end to an era in which judicial independence has been weakened, freedom of speech has been restricted, and journalists and politicians have been imprisoned.
“If we take power, everyone will speak freely and be harshly criticized,” Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairwoman of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Reuters in an interview.
“We will focus on building a pluralistic democracy. As we put an end to the autocratic rule in Turkey, we will take comprehensive measures so that no authoritarian regime will emerge again,” she said.
While Ankara defends its rights record, critics say civil liberties and freedoms have suffered major set backs over the last decade as Erdogan has concentrated ever more power in his hands, prompting concern among Western allies.
Gokcen said an opposition-led government would introduce changes including a constitutional amendment to secure judicial independence, and put an end to politically-motivated lawsuits.
Among other changes, she said an opposition-led Turkey would also respect rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, with which Erdogan has clashed, notably over the case of Osman Kavala.
A civil activist, Kavala was jailed for life in 2022 on a charge of trying to overthrow the government by financing protests. Western powers see it as a politically-driven case.
The opposition has long said Erdogan and his AK Party influence the courts. The government denies this.
Polls are showing a tight race between Erdogan and his main challenger, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, candidate of a six-party alliance, who has a slight lead.
Seeking to rally his conservative base, Erdogan has declared the opposition “pro-LGBT” while on the campaign trail. Rights activists say the LGBT community, often described as “deviant” by Erdogan, has been systematically targeted.
Supporters of Erdogan, who was once jailed for reciting a poem which authorities said incited Islamist sedition, view him as a defender of democracy and civilian government who confronted the military to halt its interference in politics.
“Despite all provocations, we did not give up rule of law, democracy and legitimacy”, Erdogan tweeted on May 10.