A six-party alliance on Monday nominated the main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as a joint candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May’s elections, ending months of uncertainty and bickering that had frustrated their supporters.
The alliance tapped the leader of the centre-left pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, hours after a key member of the group – who had rejected Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy – agreed to a compromise solution and rejoined the coalition.
Turkey is heading for crucial presidential and general elections on May 14, which could move the country towards a more democratic course or extend Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade.
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The elections are Erdogan’s toughest in his 20-year rule and come amid economic turmoil and criticism of the government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquake.
“Our greatest goal is to lead Turkey towards prosperous, peaceful and joyful days,” Kilicdaroglu said after being nominated, as thousands of supporters cheered him.
Meral Aksener, who leads the nationalist Iyi party, broke away from the alliance on Friday, due to the candidacy of Kilicdaroglu. His separation from the alliance was seen as a major boost for Erdogan.
A former interior minister whose party is the second largest in the opposition bloc, Aksener reportedly favored one of Istanbul’s or Ankara’s people’s mayors over Kilicdaroglu.
Officials said Aksener rejoined the alliance after a compromise was reached in which Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas would be nominated as vice presidents.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, has failed to win a national election in the 13 years he has led the CHP. The two mayors – both from the CHP – showed more favorable poll votes against Erdogan than Kilicdaroglu.
A former bureaucrat, Kilicdaroglu headed Turkey’s social security institution before being elected to parliament in 2002. He rose to prominence after exposing alleged corruption involving members of Erdogan’s party and was elected to replace the former CHP chairman who resigned following a sex scandal.
The six-party group, known as the Nation Alliance, has vowed to restore a parliamentary democracy in Turkey should they remove Erdogan, abolishing the presidential system he introduced. Opponents say the system, which was narrowly endorsed in a 2017 referendum and was installed after the 2018 election, amounted to “one-man rule” without checks and balances.
“We will govern Turkey through consultation and consensus,” said Kilicdaroglu. “As heads of the political parties that form the National Alliance, we have also agreed on the roadmap for the transition to a strengthened parliamentary system.”
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A joint statement released after Kilicdaroglu’s appointment said the leaders of the other five parties would act as vice-presidents. The mayors of Ankara and Istanbul would also be appointed as vice-presidents at an “appropriate time”, according to the statement.
Besides CHP and Iyi, the members of the alliance are: Temel Karamollaoglu’s conservative Felicity Party; Gultekin Uysal’s Democratic Party; The Party for Democracy and Progress led by Ali Babacan; and Future Party chaired by Ahmet Davutoglu.
Babacan had been economy minister under Erdogan, while Davutoglu once led his government as prime minister.
Excluded from the alliance is the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, which is the second largest opposition party. That party faces closure following a severe crackdown by the government over alleged ties to outlawed Kurdish militant groups.
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Meanwhile, after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said the May 14 election date would be formalized this week.