Turkey opposition split as Aksener rejects presidential candidate

IYI Party leader rejects the candidacy of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Meral Aksener speaks into a microphone with her left hand raised
Meral Aksener, the leader of the nationalist IYI Party, is a key figure in Turkey's political opposition [File: Dilara Senkaya/Reuters]

Turkey’s right-wing IYI Party leader Meral Aksener has said that the country’s six-party opposition alliance no longer reflected the national will, signalling her party’s withdrawal from the grouping ahead of May elections.

Aksener told a news conference on Friday that the IYI Party’s proposed presidential candidates, the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, were not accepted by the other five parties, and called on the mayors to do their duty, in an apparent invitation for them to stand as candidates.

The other five parties in the alliance had agreed on Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as their joint candidate to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan in the May 14 elections.

After a meeting on Thursday, the alliance had said it would announce its joint candidate on Monday to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the presidential election, with a little more than two months to go before the vote in May.

However, Aksener’s position may now make it even harder for the opposition to defeat Erdogan.

“The government circles have been criticising the opposition for not being able to come around a common presidential candidate so far,” Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Ankara, said.

She added that there was a division of opinion among the opposition alliance comprising of six parties for a long time.

Aksener is against the candidature of Kilicdaroglu because she said, according to the public opinion polls, he doesn’t have much chance against Erdogan, the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

“When she joined the alliance her party was around nine percent and now its popularity has gone up to around 17 percent, according to opinion polls,” Koseoglu said.

Major challenge for Erdogan

The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades but who has seen his popularity subside amid a cost-of-living crisis even before last month’s earthquakes that killed at least 45,000 people in Turkey.

Erdogan indicated on Wednesday that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on May 14, sticking to a previous plan for the vote and undeterred by the earthquakes that were followed by criticism of his government’s response.

Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara respectively, have been mooted as candidates and polls have indicated they could perform better than Kilicdaroglu against Erdogan.

Turkey’s opposition has cooperated more closely since its success in taking control of major municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, from Erdogan’s AK Party in the 2019 local elections.

But the discord within the opposition alliance has raised doubts about its ability to capitalise on the erosion in Erdogan’s popularity shown by the opinion polls.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies