Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has been named as the main challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a landmark presidential and parliamentary vote, after days of wrangling by a six-party alliance over the nomination.
“Our table is the table of peace. Our only goal is to take the country to days of prosperity, peace and joy,” Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), told about 2,000 people gathered in Ankara on Monday.
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The head of the country’s second-biggest party will aim to defeat the president on May 14 in a tight race.
The bloc has said it will reverse many of Erdogan’s policies on the economy, civil rights and foreign affairs in what many see as the most consequential election in the republic’s 100-year history.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, could take advantage of years of economic crisis and soaring inflation, as well as last month’s devastating earthquakes in the south that killed more than 46,000 people and brought criticism of the state’s response.
Yet some doubt that the former economist who climbed the ranks as a corruption fighter can defeat Erdogan, Turkey’s longest-serving leader whose campaigning charisma has helped him win more than a dozen election victories.
Five parties in the opposition coalition had agreed on Kilicdaroglu’s nomination on Friday, but the bloc splintered after Turkey’s right-wing IYI Party leader Meral Aksener warned the joint candidate risked losing the election.
The IYI Party’s proposed presidential candidates — Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara respectively — were not accepted by the other five parties.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Ankara, said Kilicdaroglu “is known to have lost nearly every election” he has fought. But his popularity soared after he staged a “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul in 2017 to protest a crackdown on journalists and academics following an attempted coup.
Koseoglu said the IYI Party had opposed the nomination after polls suggested Imamoglu and Yavas had a better chance of winning.
After a tense 72 hours, the alliance met again on Monday and accepted an IYI proposal that Imamoglu and Yavas would later be appointed as vice presidents.
In his speech, Kilicdaroglu said the leaders of the other five opposition parties would also serve as vice presidents.
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said it may also support Kilicdaroglu in the presidential election after “clear, open talks”.
“Our clear expectation is a transition for a strong democracy. If we can agree on fundamental principles, we may support him in presidential elections,” party co-leader Mithat Sancar said in a live broadcast on private broadcaster Haberturk.
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.
The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades.