Turkey’s fractious opposition leaders ended months of acrimonious debate on Monday and agreed to name the head of the main secular party as their joint candidate against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 14 elections.
A final deal aimed at avoiding splitting the opposition vote would see CHP chief Kemal Kilikdaroglu name the popular mayors of Istanbul and Ankara as vice presidents in the event of Erdogan’s end to two decades of rule.
“If we had split up, we would have been finished,” Kilikdaroglu told a huge crowd of supporters after walking out after hours of tense talks.
Erdogan faces the fight of his political life in what he sees as Turkey’s most consequential election since its birth as a post-Ottoman republic 100 years ago.
The 68-year-old leader needs to overcome the twin hurdles of an economic crisis and the aftermath of a devastating earthquake as he seeks to extend his Islamic style of governance until 2028.
Opinion polls point to a tight race that is too close to call.
But Erdogan’s task seemed to get a little easier when one of the main leaders of the six-party opposition coalition pulled out of the talks on Friday.
Meral Aksener has argued that the soft-spoken Kilikdaroglu, 74, from Turkey’s long-marginalized Alevi community, lacked the public appeal to defeat Erdogan in the presidential election.
Instead it has urged popular CHP mayors from Istanbul or Ankara to step into the race.
The two met with Aksener on Monday in an effort to bring his nationalist Eiye party back into the opposition fold.
Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas told reporters after the meeting, “Our country cannot tolerate division.”
The opposition last united in an effort to oust Erdogan’s allies from power in municipal elections held in 2019.
His ability to seize control of Turkey’s two main cities shattered Erdogan’s aura of invincibility and set the stage for a possible return to power by the party of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secular state’s revered founder.
But Kilicdaroglu wanted both Yavas and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to stay in office to avoid the risk of handing control of either city back to Erdogan’s Islamist party.
In a 12-point text written on Monday, Kilicdaroglu committed to nominating the party’s other five leaders as vice presidents for the transition period following the election, should he win.
Kilicdaroglu would then appoint the two mayors as vice-presidents “at the appropriate time by the President”.
Party leaders said Aksener made the two appointments his main condition for rejoining the opposition bloc.
“The country has won,” Bahadir Erdem, deputy leader of the Yii party, tweeted after the announcements.
Analysts see the opposition’s failure to iron out their differences just two months before the vote as one of the main factors working in Erdogan’s favor.
Public approval of Erdogan fell after he launched an unusual economic experiment in late 2021 that sought to fight inflation by drastically cutting interest rates.
A resulting currency crisis wiped out people’s savings and raised the annual inflation rate to 85 percent.
Turkish shares and Eurobonds both rallied on rising investor hopes that the joint candidate would be able to defeat Erdogan and restore economic conservatism after years of turmoil.
Kilicdaroglu is expected to hold separate talks with the pro-Kurdish HDP — parliament’s third-largest party — to see if it can advance its appeal.
The HDP was kept out of the opposition talks because of Aksener’s more aggressive policy views.
HDP co-leader Mittaat Sansar said after Kilicdaroglu’s name was announced, “We accept the people’s desire for change.”
“The HDP will play its part.”
Erdogan’s widely praised handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helped reverse a decline in his approval ratings and gave him a come-from-behind victory.
But last month’s devastating earthquake that killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and nearly 6,000 in Syria ruined Erdogan’s entire political career.
Erdogan acknowledged that his government had been slow to respond in the critical first days of the crisis and asked voters to forgive him for the delay in the rescue.
He also dismissed rumors that he would try to delay the May vote to a more politically favorable date.
“We are not hiding behind excuses,” he said last week.
He told a weekly cabinet briefing that he would announce the formal launch of the election campaign on Friday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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