The Social Democrat becomes the candidate of the opposition bloc against President Erdogan after a settlement between two major parties.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, has announced his candidacy in the May presidential elections.
The experienced social democratic politician supports five smaller parties in an alliance against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His candidacy comes after a crisis in the opposition Nation Alliance, led by the Republican People’s Party, after the right-wing Good Party, the second largest member of the bloc and the sixth in the bloc, opposed his candidacy, initially indicating that he would withdraw from the coalition.
The drama within the coalition came nearly two months before presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be held in poor economic conditions and in the wake of devastating earthquakes last month that killed more than 45,000 people in southeastern Turkey and displaced millions.
Who is Kemal Kilicdaroglu?
Kilicdaroglu was born in 1948 in the eastern city of Tunceli as one of seven children into a family from the Alevi religious minority. His father was a business officer, and his mother was a housewife.
He graduated from the Ankara Academy of Economics and Commercial Sciences (now called Gazi University) in the Turkish capital with an economics degree.
Kilicdaroglu held high-ranking financial and economic positions in Turkish institutions, including the Ministry of Finance, the General Directorate of Revenue, and two social security agencies.
He taught at Hacettepe University in Ankara and was on the board of directors of Turkey Is Bank, the largest private bank in the country by its assets.
How did Kilicdaroglu get into politics and become the leader of the CHP?
Kilicdaroglu entered parliament as a CHP deputy from Istanbul in the 2002 general elections, which also saw Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party come to power for the first time after an economic crisis.
He was re-elected in 2007 and served as deputy chairman of his party’s parliamentary group under the leadership of Deniz Baykal, the leader of the CHP at the time.
After Baykal’s resignation, Kilicdaroglu stood unopposed for CHP leader at the May 2010 party congress and became chairman of the center-left party.
His party has lost all general and presidential elections to the AKP and Erdogan since then.
The CHP and its allies’ most significant success in the 2019 local elections came when the party won municipal elections in five out of the country’s six major provinces, including Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey’s financial center and largest city.
What caused the recent political unrest?
On Friday, Meral Aksener, the leader of the International Sunna Party, criticized her allies at a press conference for what she saw as the imposition of Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy, after a day of talks between the leaders of the six parties, known as the table of six.
She said that “the table of six has lost the ability to reflect the will of the citizens in its decisions.” She said she would not “bow” to pressure to support Kilicdaroglu.
It asked the CHP’s mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, to run for president instead.
The dispute was resolved on Monday with the reported high-level talks as well as a public visit from Imamoglu and Yavas to Akşener at the IYI headquarters in Ankara.
The IYI party proposed that Imamoglu and Yavas serve as vice presidents if the bloc wins the May elections, which the CHP agreed to.
Galip Dalay, a senior fellow at the Middle East Council, said tensions between the two main parties in the bloc focus not primarily on which candidate could win the election but on who will have more influence in Turkey after the election.
“These three political actors represent different visions and voter bases, so the International Sunnah Prayer Party in particular sees itself in a stronger position in dealing with a government that includes Imamoglu and Yavas,” the analyst said.
Who are Imamoglu and Yavas?
Imamoglu is known for his liberal views and has established close relations with Aksener. He was the mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district for the CHP before winning citywide a 2019 contest that had to be repeated. The AKP contested its first victory and succeeded in annulling the election, but Imamoglu won by a wider margin a few months later.
He is currently appealing a court decision seeking to ban him from politics. In December he was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison and banned from holding political office for allegedly insulting election officials after winning the mayoralty.
Yavas is to the right of the CHP. He served as mayor of the Beypazari district of Ankara for the MHP, an ally of Erdogan, for two terms. He became mayor of Ankara on his third attempt after two failed attempts under the leadership of the Nationalist Movement Party and the Republican People’s Party.
Aksener herself also used to be a member of MHP.
Dalai told Al Jazeera that if the coalition can work and campaign together as it did in the 2019 local elections, it has a chance of winning regardless of the candidate.
“If the alliance can hold together and create internal synergy and harmony, it can win,” he said, adding that the alliance would also have tacit support from the non-member, pro-Kurdish left-wing People’s Democratic Party.
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