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Two candidates emerge for leadership of Turkey’s main opposition party

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is witnessing a leadership contest as two prominent contenders officially announced their candidacy for the party chairmanship on Friday.

CHP parliamentary group leader Özgür Özel officially announced his candidacy for the party leadership on Friday, signifying a possible change of course for the party in light of the local elections in 2024.

Following an election defeat in May, in which CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu lost to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, calls for change within the party grew louder.

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

Özel’s announcement comes amid growing calls for reform and represents the desire for a fresh leadership perspective, calling the party towards a more transparent and democratic structure.

During his address to the media at CHP headquarters, Özel emphasized the necessity for substantial change in the party, going beyond merely a shift in leadership. He conveyed stories symbolizing deep social wounds and unfulfilled promises, invoking the struggles of diverse individuals across Turkey’s 81 provinces.

He stressed the need for a holistic change, emanating not from an individual but a unified, resolute team committed to transformation.

Özel emphasized the urgency of revisiting the party’s approach to alliances, advocating for a collaborative framework that resonates with the party’s core values.

He criticized the electoral alliance that led to the transfer of 39 MPs who were elected on CHP lists to other parties, and particularly the lack of transparency during the process. Özel highlighted the pressing need to repair the disconnect with voters allowed by the previous leadership, vowing to steer the party away from policies that polarize society on ethnic and sectarian lines.

A substantial portion of Özel’s speech was devoted to empowering youth and women, portraying them as the agents of the determination, belief and resolution vital for instigating meaningful change. He emphasized a collaborative, inclusive approach fostering greater participation from young people and women in the party’s decision-making processes.

Concurrent with his announcement, Özel released a 38-page document outlining his vision for the party’s future, scrutinizing the setbacks experienced during the May elections and laying down a roadmap for future endeavors. The document, titled “The Century of Change: The Change of the Century,” delves deep into a host of issues ranging from economic policies to electoral reforms, emphasizing a participant-driven, transparent and democratic approach in party functions.

Many CHP lawmakers expressed support for Özel, but the most significant endorsement came from İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who has been leading the calls for party reform.

Özel’s call for a more democratic approach, especially in forming alliances and enhancing transparency in the party’s decision-making processes, has been welcomed by many. However, its practical implementation is questionable since might encounter challenges given the existing delegate structure in the party, which tends to favor whoever holds the chairmanship position.

Adding to the competitive landscape is the candidacy of Prof. Dr. Örsan Kunter Öymen, the brother of former CHP leader Altan Öymen, who has become the second individual to announce his candidacy for party leadership, following Özel. The announcement came during a press conference held at party headquarters.

During the press conference Öymen evaluated the election results achieved under the current administration, criticizing a fatalistic acceptance prevailing in the party leadership, highlighted in the sentiment, “The CHP’s vote is 21-22 percent [no more, no less].”

Öymen warned of a “vicious circle,” pointing out that the likelihood of success in local elections is very low if the leadership remains unchanged. He pointed to reactions from the public, various studies and the mood at the district congresses as indicators of the existing discontent.

He pointed to the democratic norm in other countries, where leaders tend to resign or announce their non-candidacy after one or two electoral defeats. Unfortunately, Oymen said, such a development is not observed in their party, which leads to stagnation.

Öymen stressed that a “third way” must be found to break the existing stalemate. In his opinion this path should also include social democracy and the democratic left.

Öymen reiterated the need to take this path and declared his intention to run for the party chairmanship at the CHP’s 38th ordinary party congress.

The upcoming CHP general congress, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5, at which the new leadership will be determined, is a decision that will be heavily influenced by delegates from Turkey’s various regions.

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