Turkish main opposition CHP voted the “revisionist” candidate Mr Özgür Özel as its new chair against incumbent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu following the latter’s general and presidential electoral defeat. Özel became the 8th leader of the CHP since its foundation in 1923, ending Kılıçdaroğlu’s 13-year rule.
He secured 812 out of a potential 1,366 votes at the party congress in Ankara, which required two rounds to determine the outcome.
“This is the greatest honor of my life,” Ozel said after the results were announced. “We are embarking on the road for local election victory,” as Turkey heads towards important local elections in March 2024.
“We have believed in turning hopelessness into hope, we are hopeful,” Ozel said as he was feted by supporters including Imamoglu.
İmamoğlu, who has been a vocal figure of the “revisionists,” said, “I congratulate Mr Özgür Özel who was elected as the Party Chairman at the 38th Ordinary Congress of the Republican People’s Party. I also thank everyone who contributed to the successful organisation of the congress. Now it is time for change in Turkey!”
Analysts say Kilicdaroglu’s refusal to step down or withdraw from the race had hurt his legacy. Ozer Sencar, head of pollster Metropoll, said on X that Ozel’s victory could alter the trend of depoliticisation in Turkey following the May elections.
“The Ozel-Imamoglu union could be a very important turning point in the country’s politics,” Sencar said.
The party aims to reclaim major cities, building on their previous success after having won Istanbul and Ankara from Erdogan’s party in 2019.
The vote comes a time when many analysts warn Erdoğan is sliding towards autocracy. In some sense, March 2024 local elections may be the final battle for democracy in Turkey. If Erdogan-Bahceli reclaim major population centers their parties lost in 2019, opposition voters will turn their back to politics. Erdogan might use the victory as a referendum on his controversial oppression of individual liberties and political rights, banning potential threats to his supremacy from politics.
While the governing coalition has a distinct advantage going into March ballot, it is by no means certain that they will sweep large cities. Many CHP mayors are genuinely popular; and may attract most of the votes from former Nation Alliance parties. Ozel could still secure city-based alliances with pro-Kurdish rights party HEDEP and/or centre-right IYIP. The biggest obstacle to Erdogan’s triumph is economic hardship, which will get worse as Mehmet Simsek’s austerity program begins to bite. Erdogan can respond by porkbarreling, but this course of action is prone to destabilize the currency, setting up another crisis, which could raise protest votes against him.
Who is Özgür Özel?
Born in the western Manisa province in 1974, Özel received his undergraduate education at Ege University Faculty of Pharmacology.
He became a CHP deputy first in 2011, and CHP Group Deputy Chair in 2015. After Kılıçdaroğlu could not become a deputy due to his presidential candidacy, Özel became the party’s parliamentary group chair in June.
Özel’s first main test will be the local elections to be held on March 31, and it is a matter of question whether he will be able to form alliances with other opposition parties, some of which have been critical of the CHP after the elections, for especially crucial municipalities, such as Istanbul and Ankara.
Compiled from various international and local press sources
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