Turkey’s opposition splits over candidate to fight Erdoğan
The opposition coalition ‘has lost the ability to represent the will of the nation,’ the leader of the right-wing Good Party, Meral Akşener, said.
Tensions in Turkey’s opposition coalition boiled over on Friday, just as the six parties were attempting to agree on a candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the most hotly contested elections in his 20-year rule.
Unless the parties can overcome their grievances in the coming days, the fissure in their camp is likely to play in favor of Erdoğan, who is seen as unusually vulnerable over double-digit inflation, and criticism over his response to devastating earthquakes last month that killed tens of thousands.
A key member of the coalition, the leader of Turkey’s rightwing Good Party (IYI), Meral Akşener, announced she would leave the alliance, saying it “ha[d] lost the ability to represent the will of the nation.”
Cracks in the wide-ranging alliance, which mixes parties from left to right, started to show on Thursday, when the six parties met to discuss their pick for a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, and failed to settle on a name.
On Friday, Akşener expressed her preference for Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, or the high-profile mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoğlu, instead of the head of the main opposition party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, considered to be the favorite for the spot.
The next Turkish general election, scheduled for May 14, promises to be one of the world’s most strategically significant elections of the year.
The outcome will be keenly watched as observers seek to determine whether Erdoğan — who is taking treading a difficult political tightrope over Russia’s war against Ukraine — will push the country of 85 million in a more traditionalist, religiously conservative direction, or whether a new leader will be able to reset damaged relations with the West.
One of the central dilemmas for the opposition has been whether to back Kılıçdaroğlu, an understated 74-year-old former bureaucrat who has led the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) for more than a decade, over his fellow party member, Istanbul mayor Imamoğlu.
Nicknamed the “Turkish Gandhi” for his slight build and humble style, Kılıçdaroğlu is widely credited for his party’s recent electoral successes.
Yet, analysts have questioned Kılıçdaroğlu’s ability to pose a real challenge to Erdoğan, and his political victories have failed to materialize in his approval ratings. According to recent polls, about only 40 percent of the Turkish population was satisfied with his run as the opposition’s main leader.
Many believe that Imamoğlu, 52, who put an end to 25 years of AKP rule in Istanbul when he was elected in 2019, could have made a more dynamic candidate.
But the Istanbul mayor was given a 31-month prison sentence last December for insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council, hampering his chances of running.
Imamoğlu has called the ruling “a joke,” but said he still had faith in the country’s justice system.
He has appealed the verdict, and remains in office for now. But the final court decision could come before the election — and, if convicted, he would not be able to run, leaving the opposition without a leading candidate.
Friday’s split has sent shockwaves through the coalition, and led the remaining five parties to hold emergency meetings on Friday afternoon.
When asked about Akşener’s statement, Kılıçdaroğlu said “not to worry,” adding that “everything [would] fall into place.”
Leyla Aksu contributed reporting.