Turkey’s opposition alliance splits over election candidate

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Turkey’s right-wing IYI Party withdrew from the main opposition alliance on Friday, rejecting its proposal to make the biggest opposition party leader their election candidate and potentially weakening the challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The public split, after months of simmering discord, came after Erdogan said this week the elections would be held on May 14, despite criticism of his government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquakes.

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Speaking at party headquarters in Ankara, IYI Party leader Meral Aksener said the other five parties in the alliance had put forward Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as their presidential candidate.

She said her party, the second biggest in the alliance, would not “bow down” to pressure to accept him. Instead she proposed as candidates the Istanbul and Ankara mayors, both from the CHP, saying opinion polls showed they would win by a large margin against Erdogan.

“As of yesterday, the ‘Table of Six’ (opposition parties) has lost the ability to reflect the will of the people in its decisions,” she said, signaling her party’s exit from the alliance.

“It is no longer a platform through which potential candidates can be discussed but a table that works to rubber-stamp a single candidate,” she said.

Aksener said the nation was calling on the Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas to do “their duty” suggesting they step up as candidates.

Speaking after Aksener’s announcement, Kilicdaroglu downplayed the disagreement over the presidential candidate.

“Don’t worry, all stones will fall into place,” he said, according to broadcaster Haberturk and other media.

The “Table of Six” met on Thursday for more than five hours to agree a candidate and issued a statement, signed by all the leaders including Aksener, saying, “We have reached a common understanding concerning our joint presidential candidate.”

It had said the leaders would gather again on Monday to announce their final decision. But following that meeting, Aksener went to her party’s headquarters in Ankara and held a meeting with IYI leaders until around the early hours of the morning.

She made her announcement after a further meeting of party officials on Friday.

Doubts on Kilicdaroglu

The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades. It has cooperated more closely since its success in taking control of major municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party in 2019 local elections.

Erdogan has seen his popularity dip amid a cost-of-living crisis even before last month’s earthquakes that killed at least 45,000 people in Turkey.

But despite widespread criticism of the government’s initial response to the disaster, pollsters on Friday said Erdogan and the AK Party appeared to have largely retained its support.

In the southeastern province of Adiyaman, an AKP stronghold which suffered some of the worst earthquake destruction, some said their support for the government had waned because of its disaster response but they remained unsure about the opposition.

“There are many who want to vote for the opposition, but there are no candidates yet,” said Mahmut in the badly-hit town of Besni. “I wouldn’t vote for Kilicdaroglu. He has not won a single election.”

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