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Turkish opposition selects Kemal Kilicdaroglu as joint presidential candidate

Opposition figures overcame division to back the leader of the Republican People's Party to take on Erdogan
Chairman of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu poses for the press ahead of a meeting with opposition party leaders in Ankara on 6 March 2023 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Six Turkish opposition leaders have agreed to nominate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as their joint presidential candidate.

The deal came after extensive negotiations between the parties in order to overcome objections by Meral Aksener, the leader of Turkish nationalist Iyi Party, to a Kilicdaroglu nomination. She accused the opposition coalition, dubbed Table of Six, of gambling the country’s future. 

However, following 72 hours of public fighting with its fair share of insults, the six leaders came out posing in front of cameras, smiling, and finally declaring on Monday that Kilicdaroglu would be taking on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in polls in May. 

Kilicdaroglu said that if he were to be elected, he would govern the country by also consulting remaining opposition leaders. "Yunus Emre says if we share what we have, we will be full, if we divide we will perish."

Kilicdaroglu also said that each of the five remaining party leaders would become vice presidents if he beats Erdogan. 

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A protocol released by the alliance indicates that Kilicdaroglu, when appropriate, would assign Aksener-backed Istanbul and Ankara mayors Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas as vice presidents as well. 

Aksener had originally said the CHP leader was not popular enough to be the nominee and pointed to polls indicating that Imamoglu and Yavas would do a much better job against Erdogan than Kilicdaroglu. 

Following Aksener’s harsh statement, she was heavily criticised on broadcast and social media, with many accusing her of fracturing an alliance which had the potential to oust Erdogan after more than two decades.

Respected pollster Bekir Agirdir told local media that Aksener’s decision to leave the coalition was“political suicide”, which would likely push a large constituency to leave her for Kilicdaroglu. Celebrities and journalists accused Aksener of opportunism, some even speculated that she might join Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, along with her former party the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Kilicdaroglu, on the other hand, kept calm and said he didn't want to shrink the alliance, and spoke even of enlarging it. 

But sources close to the Table of Six told Middle East Eye that, as the dust settled, senior officials from both parties realised that they needed each other not only for the presidential elections but also next year’s local elections. 

“You cannot win Istanbul and Ankara without the alliance, these are the jewels of the opposition,” one source familiar with the negotiations told MEE.

“And you cannot win the majority in the parliament without the joint lists... Istanbul and Ankara municipalities have large budgets as well as direct reach to millions of voters. "

Aksener running herself or going along with another candidate risked a division among the voters that could put Erdogan in an advantageous position as happened in the 2018 election, where the opposition went to elections with multiple candidates.


On Sunday, several CHP members of parliament released messages on Twitter calling for reconciliation.

Mehmet Emin Ekmen, the deputy chairman of liberal leaning DEVA - which is part of the Table of Six - also said on live TV that there was still a path, and it was possible to reassess the situation with the next meeting on Monday. 

A second source said that the Iyi Party, after realising the magnitude of the reaction, studied another proposal: Yavas and Imamoglu could be made vice presidential nominees along with Kilicdaroglu. 

Turkey elections: Opposition alliance splits over presidential candidate
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The negotiations between the parties continued throughout the night until the morning. Sources say Kilicdaroglu accepted the offer but others, such as DEVA chairman Ali Babacan, were cold to the idea of having simple mayors as vice presidents. 

In an attempt to further erode the ice, Imamoglu and Yavas visited Aksener in the Iyi headquarters in Ankara, showing the public that they were ready to move on. 

The whole day had countless ups and downs, as Aksener first refused to join the Table of Six meeting.

Then Aksener met Kilicdaroglu at a hotel in Ankara, agreeing to continue working together based on the understanding. 

Aksener and her entourage believe the existence of Imamoglu and Yavas, who appear to defeat Erdogan by wide margin, could make Kilicdaroglu more electable. 

Can Selcuki, the general manager of polling company Istanbul Economy Research, told MEE that their research indicates Kilicdaroglu running with a vice presidential nominee could change the feeling in his favour.

For example, a poll they conducted last year indicated that if Kilicdaroglu goes to elections with Aksener on side, he could vastly increase his likeability and support among the Turkish nationalists. 

“Same logic goes with Imamoglu and Yavas being the vice presidential nominees,” he said. 

The protocol released by the Table of Six says that each party would get ministerial positions in proportion to who they manage to get elected to parliament in the coming elections. But each party, regardless of the number of MPs they have, will get at least one ministerial seat. The president would make important decisions such as abolishing the parliament, declaring a state of emergency, shaping the national security policy, and drafting presidential decrees with the other leaders. The protocol also says the new government would transform the executive presidential system back to a parliamentary one as soon as possible by ratifying constitutional amendments. 

The whole crisis has diminished the nationwide debate on the twin earthquakes that killed at least 46,000 people in Turkey last month. Hundreds of thousands of people live in tents and basic hygiene, such as access to clean water and toilets, continue to be a privilege. 

While the opposition was marred with the candidate dispute, Erdogan had a seven-hour-long meeting with top scientists of the nation to design a disaster response plan and council. 

“I told you that they would just sit and talk, didn’t I?” he told the journalist on Saturday.

“Where were we at the time of their dispute?  In Istanbul’s Dolmabahce, in a meeting with about 110 scholars. Because we are in trouble. There is an earthquake in Turkey.”

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