The new defeat by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened the debate on the need for a renewal in the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main social democratic formation in Turkey and the first opposition force. More and more voices are demanding that its leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu – the opposition candidate against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – make way for younger leaders.
In the early hours of Sunday to Monday, when the count had already made it clear that Erdogan would remain in power, several members of the CHP central committee offered Kiliçdaroglu his resignation en bloc. He rejected her. He also refused to submit his resignation himself, arguing that this would give an image of "failure" when he considers that the 48% of the votes reached in the second round of the presidential elections on Sunday is a great success of the opposition, according to several Turkish media on Monday. "Despite all the pressures, the desire to change this authoritarian regime is obvious. We will continue the fight. Our path continues. We are still here," Kiliçdaroglu said in his speech after the results were made public.
A woman walks past an election poster of candidate Kiliçdaroglu on an Istanbul street on Monday. Emrah Gurel (AP)
But more and more voices are calling on him to withdraw and criticize his insistence on having imposed his name as a joint opposition candidate against other names that the polls gave more possibilities against Erdogan, such as the mayors of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, or Ankara, Mansur Yavas. "Despite the hard work he has put into the presidential elections, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu has not succeeded. Our party has also failed in the legislative elections," former party leader Mehmet Akif Hamzaçebi said on Twitter. "Enough is enough. Leave it, please. Dedicate yourself to your grandchildren. He gave us hope for 13 years, but now he must leave it with dignity," Bolu Mayor Tuncay Özcan said.
In this new period, Kiliçdaroglu does not even have a seat in Parliament, which makes it very difficult for him to continue as a political leader. But the veteran Social Democrat (he is 74 years old) seems to want to steer the course of his formation, at least until the municipal elections in March next year. That is, ten months that, as Erdogan hinted in his triumphal speech, will be practically a continuous electoral campaign.
The Municipal Battle
The CHP should have held its ordinary congress last year. However, it was postponed to focus on the election period that ended on Sunday. According to sources cited by the media Medyascope and Habertürk, Kiliçdaroglu's idea is that the party begins to hold local congresses at the end of summer, then continue with the provincial congresses and elect a new national leader of the party after the municipal ones, in which the CHP must defend the City Councils achieved in the 2019 elections such as Ankara and Istanbul before the onslaught that Erdogan prepares.
More than a few are pointing to Mayor Imamoglu, 51, as a possible new leader. In fact, in a video posted on social media on Monday, the mayor of Istanbul launched a message in favor of continuing to fight for change. "We cannot expect different results if we always do the same thing," he said in a veiled reference to his own party and in a speech in which he made numerous references to the youth of the great figures of Turkish history when they achieved their greatest achievements. "I know tens of millions of people today are disappointed. Dear young people, do not allow yourselves to be carried away by despair. We are a nation capable of great things [...] Believe me, we have a long road ahead [but] we are young and we have faith in ourselves. Trust me. Everything will get better," he concluded.
Ekrem Imamoglu, during a rally in Istanbul on Saturday. YASIN AKGUL (AFP)
The biggest obstacle for Imamoglu is that he faces a jail sentence of more than two years and another five years of political disqualification to which a court sentenced him for calling "stupid" the members of the Electoral Board who ordered a repeat of the Istanbul mayoral elections that he had won. The conviction is pending confirmation by the Supreme Court, but several members of Erdogan's party have already signaled they would go after him as soon as the presidential election concluded. Accusations of corruption that Imamoglu considers a set-up are also being prepared.
"The disqualification could curtail Imamoglu's political career in the new period, since it would prevent him from running in the municipal elections of 2024 and the presidential elections of 2028. The current regime dislikes Imamoglu and through the courts wants to neutralize him," explains columnist Nagehan Alçi to EL PAÍS: "In this way, he would achieve control of the Istanbul City Council before the elections, which is also a very important source of income. This way of acting goes against the norms of the rule of law, but unfortunately I think it is very likely to happen."
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