ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition alliance has named Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its candidate to run against incumbent Tayyip Erdogan in presidential elections expected on May 14.
Following are descriptions of opposition figures in Turkish politics:
CHP LEADER KEMAL KILICDAROGLU
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, has led the center-left, secularist party since 2010. Under his leadership the CHP has failed to close the gap with Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) in parliamentary elections.
With support holding between 22-26% in general elections, critics have questioned his ability to make the CHP the leading party at the national level. Kilicdaroglu was a civil servant who ran the social security institution before entering politics and he is a favorite target of Erdogan’s criticism in speeches. His profile rose in 2017 when he led an opposition march from Ankara to Istanbul to protest the jailing of one of his lawmakers.
He spearheaded the formation of an alliance with the nationalist-centrist IYI Party, which helped them win municipal elections in Istanbul and Ankara in 2019. They expanded the so-called Nation Alliance in 2022 and have worked together to field a joint presidential candidate. Despite some opposition from the public and particularly from the IYI Party, Kilicdaroglu has played himself up as the candidate, after agreeing that the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara to run as vice-presidents.
IYI PARTY LEADER MERAL AKSENER
Former interior minister Meral Aksener, 66 (July 18, 1956) has risen to greater prominence in recent years as a potential challenger to Erdogan. She was expelled from the nationalist MHP party in 2016 after mounting an unsuccessful bid to oust its long-standing leader Devlet Bahceli. In 2017 she formed the moderately nationalist Iyi Party, which formed an alliance with the CHP in 2018 elections and has 36 lawmakers in the 600-seat parliament. She appeals to right-wing and nationalist voters, partly those who are disenchanted with the MHP over its alliance with the AK Party. She has pressed for a return to the parliamentary system which was replaced in 2018 with a presidential one under Erdogan.
After initial opposition to Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy, she returned to the opposition alliance after convincing Kilicdaroglu that the Istanbul and Ankara mayors would serve as vice presidents if the opposition wins the May presidential election.
ISTANBUL MAYOR EKREM IMAMOGLU
After five years as CHP mayor of an Istanbul district, former businessman Ekrem Imamoglu, 52 (June 4, 1970), rose to prominence in March 2019 when he defeated the AK Party’s candidate in the Istanbul municipal election. His status as a major new player in Turkish politics was reinforced after authorities annulled that vote and he won a re-run election more convincingly, dealing a blow to Erdogan’s dominance of Turkish politics. Backed by an opposition alliance, Imamoglu has succeeded in appealing to more conservative voters beyond the CHP’s secularist grassroots. He has clashed at times with Erdogan over issues such as the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and plans for a canal cutting through the west of Istanbul. He is seen as a potential challenger to Erdogan at the national level but is for now focused on running Turkey’s largest city in a term scheduled to run until 2024. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2022 for insulting public officials and faces a political ban if the ruling is upheld, a verdict critics said was unfair and aimed to hinder him politically.
ANKARA MAYOR MANSUR YAVAS
Nationalist politician and lawyer Mansur Yavas, 67 (May 23, 1955) defeated the AK Party’s candidate in the Istanbul election in March 2019 as the CHP candidate backed by an opposition alliance. Previously he served for 10 years as the nationalist MHP mayor of an Ankara district until 2009. He left the MHP in 2013 and joined the CHP the same year before narrowly losing the Ankara municipal election in 2014. Opinion polls have indicated strong support for Yavas as a potential challenger to Erdogan at the national level after he won praise for his performance as Ankara mayor during the coronavirus pandemic. However, polls suggest he would have a difficult time rallying support among Kurdish voters.
FORMER HDP LEADER SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS
Former leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, 49 (April 10, 1973) remains a key political figure in Turkish politics despite being in jail since 2016. Demirtas was previously sentenced to three years in prison for insulting the president and is now facing a potential life sentence in an ongoing trial with more than 100 other HDP politicians accused of instigating 2014 protests in which dozens died. He ran for president twice, once in 2014 and again from behind bars in 2018, when he came in third with 8.40% of votes.
Ahead of this year’s elections, Demirtas’ Twitter account has issued daily political messages to its more than 2 million followers. Last month, Demirtas openly called for Kilicdaroglu to lead the opposition in Turkey ahead of elections.
“Go Labor and Freedom Alliance! Go Socialist Collaboration! Go Nation Alliance! Go Mr. Kemal! Walk side by side!” Demirtas wrote, even though his party previously suggested they could field a candidate of their own.
Polls suggest that, without support from the HDP, the Nation Alliance would be unlikely to win the presidential elections in the first round or attain a majority in parliament.
MUST PARTY LEADER ALI BABACAN
Babacan, 55, is an ex-deputy prime minister and former close ally of Erdogan who left the AKP in 2019 over differences about its leadership. He formed the Deva (Remedy) Party and called for reforms to strengthen the rule of law and democracy. A former economy and foreign minister, he was well regarded by foreign investors while in charge of the economy.
FUTURE PARTY LEADER AHMET DAVUTOGLU
Davutoglu, 64, a former prime minister and foreign minister, broke with the AKP in 2019 and established the Gelecec (Future) Party. In the first decade of AKP rule he championed a less confrontational foreign policy with the mantra “zero problems with neighbors”, and has since criticized what he describes as a lurch towards authoritarianism under the executive presidency.
(Reporting by Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen and Huseyin Hayatsever; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Angus MacSwan)