Tonight’s debate: Are the gladiators on TV or orators whose aim is to convince us to vote for them?


Tonight, the two candidates for the mayorship of Istanbul are meeting for a debate on screen one week before the re-run. They will respond to questions of the moderator who is a journalist. The program will last 150 minutes, each of the candidates will have a three-minute time limit for each question, and the program will be broadcast by all television channels that wish to air the debate.

Given that the race between the two candidates is for the mayorship of Istanbul, the debate would normally be expected to be an ordinary event arousing curiosity and interest only in city-dwellers.

But, is it so? Of course it is not. Because of the enermous nationwide interest for the re-run election, the debate may set an all-time rating record for a single broadcast.

It interests everybody

My peers would remember the boxing matches of Muhammad Ali in the USA that could be viewed live in the dead of the night in our country due to the time difference between Turkey and the USA. We would get up around the broadcast time, settle in front of the television, and watch the matches attentively from beginning to end.

This political confrontation seems to have reached a similar public interest level.

The latest remarks of President Tayyip Erdoğan on the debate has increased this interest level further.

When he was on his way back home after attending a meeting in Tajikistan, the President told the following to a group of journalists, known to be pro-government, who followed him during his trip:


The debate between Yıldırm and İmamoğlu on televisionThe program may have serious consequences on outcome of the election. Because, citizens don’t really know enough about each of the candidates. There are ones who establish their campaign on lies, as there are others who build theirs on truths. Now, citizens should have an opportunity to see this. Our people will bring the ones establishing their campaign on lies into line on June 23. They need to be enlightened to do so.

Watching the debate between the candidates, we will learn who is who.

We will be informed about lies.

We will be enlightened.

If there are still some voters who have not made up their minds for voting for AK Party, they will too join the ranks of those who will bring the liars into line on June 23.

This is the President’s expectation.

To tell you the truth, when I put myself in shoes of the AK Party’s candidate, even though this is merely a mental image in my mind, the tension I am experiencing makes my hair stand on end.

Because, not even the great Roman orator Cicero could fulfill such a great expectation.


Cicero was the accomplished orator of the Roman Empire. Being a historical figure, he greatly influenced the Western thought even in subsequent centuries through his speeches and works in his limited life-span that came to an end in a tragic manner. All the languages stemming from Latin, and the Renaissance that is considered to be the initial stage of the modern Western civilization owe a lot to Cicero.

I think even Cicero himself would have found it truly challenging to impress us if he had appeared in the debate on television tonight on behalf of the AK Party’s candidate in order to fulfill expectations of AK Party and its leader.

The AK Party’s candidate, as we all know, is not a master orator like Cicero. We have never heard of him being assertive about having oratorical skills. He speaks slowly and distinctly, often feels the need of repeating himself through different words as his initial remarks on a certain topic are not understood by his audience.

I know that a professional team have been preparing him for the debate tonight.

All state resources, those documents and collected personal information about the opposition’s candidate which are considered useful for discrediting the rival in particular, must be put under his order to be used during the program as the opportunity arises.

Do you anticipate a fierce fight?

My examples of Cicero and Muhammad Ali have something to do with such a preparatory work on the side of the AK Party’s candidate. It seems to me likely that the debate tonight will turn into a fierce battle resembling those gladiator fights in the Colosseum which continued until one fighter killed the other one, or the boxing matches of Mohammad Ali where he knocked his rivals out.

However, when television is intended to be used for such a purpose, the attempt of defeating the other candidate involves quite serious risks for its organizers. The way such offensive attempts aiming at painting the rival into a corner are perceived by the viewers may well backfire.

As far as I am concerned, what arouse more curiosity concerning the debate tonight is what and how the opposition’s candidate will say rather than the performance of the AK Party’s candidate. Will he rise to the bait through encouraging advices coming from his own side, thus adopt an over-denunciatory tone? Will he respond to hurtful remarks of his rival in the same way? Will the battle of words tonight turn into time-consuming bickering?

Well, when we make up our minds concerning whom to vote, we will not consider which of the candidates fights better as the criterion.

Therefore, I hope that the program will be a discreet debate, and we would expect similar programs to be organized before future elections as well.

My recommendation to the participants based on experiences is simple: Who gives a decent impression in such debates on screen leaves the program studio as the winner.


[Translated by Bernar Kutluğ from the the article appeared in this site’s Turkish section on June 16, 2019]