A six-party alliance on Monday nominated main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its common candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections in May, ending months of uncertainty and bickering that had frustrated their supporters.
The alliance tapped the leader of the pro-secular, center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, hours after a key member of the grouping — who had rejected Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy — agreed to a compromise solution and returned to the coalition.
Turkey is headed toward pivotal presidential and general elections on May 14 that could shift the country toward a more democratic course or extend Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade.
The elections are Erdogan’s toughest during his 20-year rule and come amid economic turmoil and criticism of the government’s response to a devastating earthquake last month.
“Our biggest goal is to carry Turkey toward prosperous, peaceful and joyful days,” Kilicdaroglu said after he was nominated, as thousands of supporters cheered.
Meral Aksener, who leads the nationalist Iyi Party, broke away from the alliance on Friday, over Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy. Her split from the alliance had been seen as a major boost for Erdogan.
A former interior minister whose party is the second largest in the opposition bloc, Aksener was reported to have favored either of the popular mayors of Istanbul or Ankara instead of Kilicdaroglu.
Officials said Aksener returned to the alliance after a compromise was reached where Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas would be nominated as vice-presidents.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, has failed to win a national election in the 13 years he has led the CHP. The two mayors — both from CHP — have been showing more favorable poll ratings against Erdogan than Kilicdaroglu.
A former bureaucrat, Kilicdaroglu headed Turkey’s social security institution before being elected to parliament in 2002. He came to prominence after exposing alleged corruption involving members of Erdogan’s party and was elected to replace CHP’s former chairman who stepped down following a sex scandal.
The six-party grouping, known as the Nation Alliance, has vowed to restore a parliamentary democracy in Turkey should they dislodge Erdogan, abolishing the presidential system that he introduced. Opponents say the system, which was narrowly approved in a 2017 referendum and was installed following elections in 2018, has amounted to “one-man rule” without checks and balances.
“We will govern Turkey through consultation and consensus,” Kilicdaroglu said. “As the heads of the political parties forming the Nation Alliance, we have also agreed on the road map for the transition to a strengthened parliamentary system.”
A joint statement released after Kilicdaroglu’s nomination said the leaders of the five other parties would act as vice-presidents. The mayors of Ankara and Istanbul would also be appointed as vice-presidents at an “appropriate time,” according to the statement.
In addition to CHP and Iyi, the members of the alliance are: Temel Karamollaoglu’s conservative Felicity Party; Gultekin Uysal’s Democrat Party; The Democracy and Progress Party led by Ali Babacan; and Future Party chaired by Ahmet Davutoglu.
Babacan had served as economy minister under Erdogan while Davutoglu once led his government as prime minister.
Excluded from the alliance is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is the second largest opposition party. That party is facing closure following a severe crackdown by the government for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militant groups.
Meanwhile, Erdogan said after a Cabinet meeting on Monday that the May 14 election date would be formalized later this week.