Turkey’s opposition alliance splits over election candidate

  • The election is set for 14 May, three months after the earthquake
  • Erdogan faces challenges amid inflation and earthquake criticism
  • Aksener’s statement throws the opposition into disarray
  • Pollsters see support for Erdogan intact despite earthquake

ANKARA, March 3 (Reuters) – Turkey’s right-wing IYI ​​party threw an opposition alliance against President Tayyip Erdogan into turmoil on Friday when it left the bloc over disagreements over who will run for president in landmark elections scheduled for two months .

The public split, after months of disagreement, came after Erdogan said this week that elections would go ahead on May 14 despite criticism of his government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

In a video posted on social media hours after Aksener’s announcement, Kilicdaroglu signaled that more parties would join their alliance, saying “the table needs to be expanded”.

“Political games, rudeness and Erdogan-like discourses have no place at this table,” he said in an apparent response to Aksener.

The leaders of the five remaining parties in the alliance will meet on Saturday, broadcaster NTV said.

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

It had said its leaders would meet again on Monday to announce its final decision. But after that meeting, Aksener went to the party headquarters in Ankara and held a meeting with IYI leaders until early morning.

She made her announcement after another meeting with party officials on Friday.


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

The withdrawal of IYI is a blow to the opposition’s efforts to mount a united front against Erdogan, said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo, a risk consultancy.

“Just like the past 20 years, the opposition proved to be President Tayyip Erdogan’s greatest asset,” he wrote in a note to clients. “With the main opposition bloc in disarray, Erdogan is now much better positioned to prevail on May 14.”

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara, Jonathan Spicer and Can Sezer in Adiyaman; Written by Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Christina Fincher and Gareth Jones

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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