Who is Kilicdaroglu, Turkish opposition’s presidential candidate?

Social democrat becomes opposition bloc’s candidate against President Erdogan after compromise between two main parties.

CHP leader Kilicdaroglu and leader of IYI Party Aksener in Ankara
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, meets with IYI Party leader Meral Aksener [File: Adem Altan/pool via Reuters]

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, has announced his candidacy for May’s presidential election.

The experienced social democratic politician is backed by five smaller parties in an alliance against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His candidacy follows a crisis in the opposition Nation Alliance, led by his Republican People’s Party (CHP), after the right-wing Good (IYI) Party, the second largest and the sixth member in the bloc, opposed his candidacy, initially signalling its withdrawal from the alliance.

The drama within the alliance came about two months before presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be held under poor economic conditions and in the aftermath of last month’s devastating earthquakes, which killed more than 45,000 people in southeastern Turkey and left millions homeless.

Who is Kemal Kilicdaroglu?

Kilicdaroglu was born in 1948 in the eastern city of Tunceli as one of seven children in a family from the Alevi religious minority. His father was a deeds officer, and his mother was a housewife.

He graduated from the Ankara Academy of Economics and Commercial Sciences (now named Gazi University) in the Turkish capital with an economics degree.

Kilicdaroglu held top-level financial and economic roles in Turkish institutions, including the Ministry of Finance, the General Directorate of Revenues and two social security bodies.

He taught at Ankara’s Hacettepe University and was a board member of Turkey Is Bank, the largest private bank in the country in terms of its assets.

How did Kilicdaroglu get into politics and become CHP leader?

Kilicdaroglu entered parliament as a CHP deputy from Istanbul in the 2002 general elections, which also saw Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party come to power for the first time after an economic crisis.

He was re-elected in 2007 and served as deputy speaker of his party’s parliamentary group under Deniz Baykal, CHP leader at the time.

After Baykal’s resignation, Kilicdaroglu stood unopposed for CHP leader at the May 2010 party convention and became chairman of the centre-left party.

His party has lost all the general and presidential elections to the AK Party and Erdogan since then.

The CHP and its allies’ most significant success came in the 2019 local elections when the party won mayoral contests in five out of the six largest provinces in the country, including Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey’s financial hub and largest city.

What is the reason for the recent political turmoil?

On Friday, Meral Aksener, the leader of the IYI Party slammed her allies at a press conference for what she regarded as the imposition of Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy, a day after talks among the six party leaders, known as the Table of Six.

“The Table of Six has lost the capacity to reflect the will of the citizens in its decisions,” she charged. She said she would not “bow down” to pressure to back Kilicdaroglu.

She asked the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, to run for president instead.

The conflict was resolved on Monday through reported high-level talks as well as a public visit from Imamoglu and Yavas to Aksener at IYI headquarters in Ankara.

The IYI Party proposed that Imamoglu and Yavas serve as vice presidents if the bloc wins May’s election, which was accepted by the CHP.

Galip Dalay, a senior fellow at the Middle East Council, said the tensions between the bloc’s two main parties are not primarily focused on which candidate could win the election but on who would have more influence in post-election Turkey.

“These three political actors represent different visions and electorate base, so the IYI Party in particular sees itself in a stronger position dealing with a government where Imamoglu and Yavas are included,” the analyst said.

Who are Imamoglu and Yavas?

Imamoglu is known for his liberal views and has established close ties with Aksener. He was the mayor of the Istanbul district of Beylikduzu for the CHP before winning citywide in a 2019 contest that had to be repeated. The AK Party contested his initial win and succeeded in having the election annulled, but Imamoglu won by a wider margin a few months later.

He is currently appealing a court decision that seeks to bar him from politics. He was sentenced in December to two years and seven months in prison and a ban from political office for allegedly insulting election officials after his mayoral win.

Yavas is on the right of the CHP. He was the mayor of Ankara’s Beypazari district for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of Erdogan’s, for two terms. He became the mayor of Ankara on his third try after two failed attempts under the MHP and the CHP.

Aksener herself also used to be a member of the MHP.

Dalay told Al Jazeera that if the alliance can work and campaign together like it did in the 2019 local elections, it has a chance to win no matter the candidate.

“If the alliance can stick together and create internal synergy and harmony, they can win,” he said, adding that the alliance would also have the tacit support of a non-member, the pro-Kurdish, left-wing People’s Democratic Party.

Source: Al Jazeera