The Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party, has made a significant change in its leadership, replacing long-time leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu with Özgür Özel, an experienced politician who has pledged to reshape the party’s strategy for a more promising political future.
Özel took over as CHP leader after being elected by party delegates voting in Ankara on Sunday. Özel became the CHP’s eighth leader after receiving 812 votes out of 1,366 delegates in the second round of voting.
This change of leadership represents a major shift of power within the Turkish opposition, the most significant since Kılıçdaroğlu took over the leadership of the party in 2010. Kılıçdaroğlu had come under increasing criticism, especially after he lost the presidential election to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this year.
Efforts to unseat Erdoğan in May’s parliamentary and presidential elections were unsuccessful, with Erdoğan securing a third term in the run-off despite Turkey’s struggling economic situation and the aftermath of the February earthquakes. Pre-election polls had suggested that Kılıçdaroğlu was going to perform strongly.
Before the first presidential round in May, Kılıçdaroğlu was praised for his ability to unite Turkey’s fragmented political landscape. The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) chose not to field presidential candidates, instead supporting Kılıçdaroğlu against Erdoğan. Many saw this election as the opposition’s best opportunity to challenge Erdoğan’s rule since he took office in 2003.
President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accused Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP of “collaboration with terrorists”, both over their talks with the HDP and Kılıçdaroğlu’s pledge for a peaceful end to the country’s Kurdish conflict.
In the first round of the election, Kılıçdaroğlu won the highest percentage of votes in five provinces with a Kurdish majority, even outperforming the traditional secular republican stronghold of Izmir.
Following the first round, Kılıçdaroğlu signed a protocol with Ümit Özdağ, the leader of the far-right Zafer Party, who announced that he supported Kılıçdaroğlu, and agreed to endorse the practice of appointing trustees to local governments in place of certain elected Kurds, though subject to judicial decision, unlike the current system where the government makes the appointments directly.
Pro-Kurdish parties raised concerns about certain clauses in the protocol that allowed for the replacement of mayors with state-appointed trustees and focused on the repatriation of migrants, though they continued their support for the opposition presidential candidate nevertheless.