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CHP sees increasing calls for change in party leadership after election defeat

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Leading figures within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) are sending strong signals of an imminent and dramatic transformation within the party, including the potential for a shift in the leadership, as the highly anticipated ordinary congress approaches.

The congress will take place on a date determined by the party council following the district congresses, scheduled to be held from Aug. 5 to Sept. 10, and the provincial congresses, which will occur between Sept. 16 and Oct. 15.

The signals indicating a potential change in the CHP leadership have emerged following the unsuccessful presidential race of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the 74-year-old chairman of the party and the main opposition alliance’s candidate, who was unable to defeat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the runoff held on May 28.

Erdoğan won 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent, according to the official results, despite an economic crisis and anger over the response to February earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.

İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the CHP spoke to the press about the impending transformation last week, saying it would not only come through superficial changes, such as reshuffling the party’s central management committee. He said he believes a comprehensive overhaul at all levels is needed.

In an indirect critique of Kılıçdaroğlu, İmamoğlu proposed himself as the ideal person to lead the transformation. “We need to be much more than a different face at the top,” he said, pointing to the need for broad, deep-seated change.

When asked if he was a candidate for CHP leadership during a public event over the weekend, the mayor said, “I have only one candidacy, [and it’s for] significant change, just like the one we achieved in İstanbul.”

İmamoğlu ended the years-long Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul when he defeated the AKP’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won a rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been canceled due to supposed irregularities.

“Just as the change in Istanbul yielded excellent results, I’m confident this change in politics, especially within the opposition and starting from my own party, will greatly benefit Turkey. I see it very clearly,” the mayor added.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz, a columnist for the Sözcü daily, said in an article on Monday that CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Özgür Özel confirmed that he could be one of the candidates for party leadership.

“I will not shy away from taking responsibility. … In the coming days, I will engage with everyone I need to speak and listen to, and proceed accordingly. The party should not block anyone’s path,” Saymaz quoted Özel as saying.

Noting that he isn’t just out for himself, Özel added that it would be a “great injustice” to Kılıçdaroğlu to attribute the change the CHP needs solely to one individual.

Commenting on İmamoğlu’s calls for a drastic change in the party, Özel was also quoted as saying, “The party needs all of us. It is not possible to neglect or disregard anyone. … We all need to refrain from using language and creating an atmosphere that undermines Kılıçdaroğlu.”

Meanwhile, the Cumhuriyet daily on Monday reported that nearly 60 mayors from the CHP will have a meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu on Tuesday to discuss the process of change within the party. They will reportedly convey the idea that change must occur from top to bottom and cannot be limited to the Central Executive Board (MYK) alone, adding that they don’t want the process to be “painful.”

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