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İmamoğlu slams CHP leaders for prioritizing system over individuals in approach to change

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İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who is pushing for a major overhaul of the CHP following a defeat in the presidential election last month, has criticized the party’s provincial chairpersons for advocating a system-oriented approach to change, rather than focusing on individuals.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won a runoff election on May 28 against a powerful opposition coalition that nominated CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as its presidential candidate, despite an economic crisis and anger over the response to February earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.

After the defeat in the runoff, in which Erdoğan won 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent, calls from leading figures from within the CHP are growing for a major overhaul of the party.

İmamoğlu spoke about changes in the party during an event marking his fourth year as mayor of İstanbul on Thursday.

Warning that the current situation in Turkey is gradually leading the country towards “authoritarianism without opposition,” İmamoğlu said people expect a “strong and substantial” change from the CHP.

The mayor said there would be no chance of success in the 2024 local elections if the current situation continues.

“It’s the most urgent and vital need for us to rebuild ourselves, our party and the opposition as a whole. It’s not enough to only change our appearance and rhetoric,” İmamoğlu said, adding that an unchanging opposition would also struggle to change the government.

İmamoğlu also criticized provincial CHP leaders for prioritizing system over individuals in their approach to change in the party in a written statement they recently released following a meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu.

“[I wish] they … had provided a text outlining a roadmap for the process of change instead of such a statement. … I don’t believe this text would be widely accepted, not even by the provincial chairpersons of the party, or that it would provide any beneficial content,” the mayor said.

In the statement, which is believed to have been made in support of the CHP leader, the provincial chairpersons emphasized that lasting change can be achieved through ideas and principles rather than individuals and that approaches aimed at discrediting Kılıçdaroğlu are not endorsed.

“We have effectively initiated preparations for our convention, which will be held with a principle and program-centered approach, rather than a person-centered approach,” they said.

The CHP convention 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.

According to a report by Deutsche Welle Turkish service on Thursday, there is an increasing perception of division in the CHP between the “Kılıçdaroğlu camp” and the “İmamoğlu camp.”

DW said statements from party leaders such as “Change should be managed by Kılıçdaroğlu,” despite İmamoğlu’s statements of wanting to “lead the change,” are also seen as a reflection of this division.

Individuals who maintain a distance from both figures express concerns about the potential for further division, DW said, adding that at this stage, there is no specific prediction about the extent to which these discussions within the party will escalate.

Earlier this week, journalist Fatih Altaylı quoted İmamoğlu in a column on his personal website as saying that if necessary, the leader of the CHP should also be involved in the changes within the party.

The mayor had argued earlier this month that superficial changes such as overhauling the party’s central management committee would not be enough and that he believed a comprehensive overhaul at all levels is needed.

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.

Other figures from the party, including parliamentary group deputy chairman Özgür Özel, MP Engin Altay and Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan, are also sending signals of an imminent and dramatic transformation within the CHP, including the potential for a shift in leadership.

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