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CHP chooses candidate favoring change in party as İstanbul chair

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A candidate supported by leading figures within the country’s main opposition party who have been sending strong signals of an imminent and dramatic transformation within the party has been chosen as its chair for İstanbul, the BBC Turkish service reported on Monday.

Signals indicating a potential change in the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leadership 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 a 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 has repeatedly stated that he believes a comprehensive overhaul at all levels of the party is needed.

During the provincial congress on Monday, Özgür Çelik, supported by İmamoğlu, was seen as the “candidate of those who want change in the party,” while the other candidate, Cemal Canpolat, was viewed as the “candidate of those who support the current party leadership,” according to BBC.

Çelik finished the election with a lead of 32 votes, with him securing 342 and his opponent Canpolat garnering 310 votes.

Canpolat had served as the İstanbul chair of the CHP between 2015 and 2018, while Çelik had been serving as the party’s chair in the Bahçelievler district for the past five years.

According to BBC, tensions between the reformists and those supporting the party leadership escalated at times during the congress.

The party’s current İstanbul chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu delivered a speech at the beginning of the event, praising the diversity of voices within the CHP.

“This is what democracy is all about. It is criticism [of others, and] self-criticism. Democracy responds to ideas with ideas. … This country has already been brought to its current state by [being ruled by] a single voice,” she said.

İmamoğlu also gave a lengthy speech in which he talked about his work at the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) since 2019.

In the final part of his speech, the mayor once again conveyed messages about the necessity of change within the CHP, saying, “I believe it is never correct to interpret criticism of the party leadership as an attack [on the party].”

Çelik also made a speech, stating that he found it wrong for the names of Kılıçdaroğlu and İmamoğlu to be discussed during the process leading to the congress.

“We will not manage İstanbul from a single center. … We will not implement the same approach in every district of İstanbul. … We will increase our membership count in Istanbul to over five hundred thousand. … We will change this system,” he added.

Monday’s provincial congress was considered critical as it would reveal how the balances within the party were shaping up ahead of the 38th Ordinary Congress of the CHP, scheduled for Nov. 4-5.

It is also believed that İstanbul will be the most critical city for both the ruling party and the opposition in the local elections scheduled for March 31, 2024. Therefore, selecting a leadership capable of ensuring strong coordination between the mayoral candidate and the provincial organization in the upcoming local election campaign is deemed important.

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