In a heated political showdown leading up to the presidential runoff election in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dismissed an offer from his rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, to participate in a live television debate on Thursday. The proposal, made by Kılıçdaroğlu, the joint presidential candidate of the main opposition bloc, aimed to engage in a direct exchange of views on a popular TV programme.
President Erdoğan’s response to the offer was marked by a dismissive tone, stating, “What will you talk to me about? There is no work you have put forward … You have become weak enough to ask for the support of their extension in order to fulfil the instructions coming from Qandil.” Erdoğan’s refusal to engage in a debate reflects his long-standing pattern of granting interviews exclusively to pro-government TV channels and journalists with close ties to his administration.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been critical of mainstream TV networks for allegedly favouring Erdoğan, had previously extended several invitations to the president for a debate on any channel of his choice. However, those requests were met with silence and no response from Erdoğan.
In his allocated speech on the state broadcaster TRT, Kılıçdaroğlu challenged Erdoğan to “answer the questions of journalists together,” confidently asserting that Erdoğan “would not dare to stand face to face with me.” The opposition candidate’s willingness to engage in a debate on a level playing field has gained attention, particularly due to his participation in a highly watched YouTube programme called Mevzular Açık Mikroson (MAM/Issues Open Mic), where he candidly responded to questions from individuals with opposing views.
The announcement of Kılıçdaroğlu’s appearance on MAM prompted a smear campaign on social media by Erdoğan’s supporters, urging them not to attend the programme or ask questions. Nevertheless, despite the presence of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters in the audience, some individuals claiming to be neutral were later revealed to have close ties to the AKP. This orchestrated attempt to influence the programme’s narrative has drawn public attention.
In an apparent move to counter criticism for evading opposition questioning, President Erdoğan recently participated in a pro-government TV program called “Great Meeting with Youth” prior to the 14 May elections. However, the nature of the questions posed to Erdoğan by young participants raised eyebrows. Many users on social media noted that the questions often included qualifiers such as “allegedly,” “there were news reports in this direction,” and “according to what was said.” This led to speculation that participants were reading from prepared scripts, casting doubts on the authenticity of the programme.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s four-hour-long MAM appearance garnered significant attention, amassing over 21 million views in just the first two days of its broadcast.