Turkiye’s CHP elects new leader of the opposition

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu attends a swearing-in ceremony as he is accompanied by Ozgur Ozel at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 2, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/file photo

The primary opposition party in Turkiye, Republican People’s Party (CHP), underwent a leadership change during the early hours of Sunday, replacing Kemal Kilicdaroglu with Ozgur Ozel after a significant election loss in May that extended president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-standing rule.

Ozgur Ozel emerged as the new leader following a second round of votes, collecting 812 of 1,366 delegate votes. He addressed a fervent crowd of CHP members, expressing optimism for a brighter political future and a commitment to bring smiles to the people.

Discontent had spread among CHP members due to the party’s failure to leverage the challenging economic conditions and aftermath of February’s earthquakes to unseat Erdogan in the parliamentary and presidential elections in May. Despite initial predictions favouring the former leader Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan secured his third presidential term in a runoff vote.

Ozel, in his acceptance speech, pledged immediate mobilisation within the party to counter the significant setback faced in the May election.

Kilicdaroglu, who has been the party’s president since 2010, faced criticism for not stepping down after the electoral loss. The call for change in the party’s leadership was primarily championed by Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a prominent figure within the CHP and a vocal critic of the party’s handling of the May election campaign.

Concerns were also raised about the CHP’s lack of democracy and excessive concentration of power within the leader’s control, despite its origins as a secularist party established by Turkiye’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Ozel, a 49-year-old former pharmacist elected to parliament in 2011, is set to lead the party in the upcoming local elections in March, aiming to retain the cities it had won in 2019 and secure new victories.

Ozel, previously seen as an ally of Kilicdaroglu, now advocates for comprehensive reforms within the party, emphasising a more inclusive approach to decision-making.

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