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Support for Kilicdaroglu grows among Turkey’s wider opposition

Having been nominated by six-strong bloc, other parties indicate support for Kemal Kilicdaroglu in May presidential election 

ISTANBUL — Having secured the nomination as the main opposition alliance’s presidential candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu received a tide of congratulatory messages from the heads of parties outside the alliance, raising the possibility of wider backing in the May vote. 

A weekend of horse-trading shored up the Table of Six alliance after one of the coalition’s main figures spoke out against Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy on Friday. 

Meral Aksener, leader of the nationalist Good Party, threw the six-party bloc into turmoil when she condemned her fellow party heads for putting personal ambition ahead of the country in selecting Kilicdaroglu, leader of the centrist Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

By Monday evening, however, she was standing alongside Kilicdaroglu and the four other leaders when his candidacy was formally declared. 

The announcement was warmly welcomed not just by the parties that form the Table of Six, also known as the Nation Alliance, but also by opposition leaders from outside the bloc. 

The most significant was the endorsement of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), the country’s second largest opposition group after Kilicdaroglu’s CHP. 

The party, which has its roots in Turkey’s Kurdish movement, has so far declined to say whether it would back the Table of Six nominee. 

However, in an interview with broadcaster Haberturk on Monday evening, HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar pointedly left the door open to support Kilicdaroglu. 

“Our aim is to reach a compromise that will ensure a democratic change,” he said. “Our main goal is to bring democracy, peace and justice to this country. We are waiting to discuss these [issues].” 

Sancar also congratulated Kilicdaroglu on receiving the nomination and invited him to talks with the HDP.  “We had said we would support the candidate if a … consensus was reached as a consequence of direct talks,” he added. 

Joint HDP leader Pervin Buldan signaled the party’s open approach to backing Kilicdaroglu. “We will re-evaluate our presidential nomination policy in the coming days, according to the developments,” she told a meeting of HDP lawmakers in Ankara on Tuesday. 

The party’s former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, who remains influential despite having been in prison for more than six years, also said Kilicdaroglu would be welcomed by the HDP for negotiations. 

The HDP, which forms part of the left-wing Labor and Freedom Alliance, has previously said it would not back a Table of Six candidate who refused to take their views into account. 

Ozgur Ozel, head of the CHP’s parliamentary group, raised the likelihood of a meeting with the HDP leadership. “The HDP is a party that gets 6 million votes. ... You cannot ignore them,” he said. 

The backing of the HDP, which receives most of its support from Kurds, could prove crucial in presidential and parliamentary elections likely to be held on May 14. Kurdish backing in the 2019 local elections was instrumental in the CHP taking major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

It was not just the HDP that welcomed Kilicdaroglu’s nomination. Erkan Bas, head of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP), tweeted congratulations and wished success for his candidacy, as did the Left Party. Kilicdaroglu met Bas and the Left Party’s Onder Isleyen on Friday. 

Ercument Akdeniz, leader of the Labor Party, told the left-leaning Evrensel newspaper that it had “become more essential to go to the presidential elections with a single [opposition] candidate. 

“Particularly, the ruins of the earthquake and the severe economic conditions experienced by the people made it necessary to come together in the face of one-man rule.” He added that Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy could “open a field of social consensus.” 

Berk Esen, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University, issued a warning about potential problems within the opposition given that Aksener and the Good Party are “displeased by the way things turned out.” 

In particular, overtures to the HDP, which the government and many nationalists have painted as having links to militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, could cause division. 

“The relationship with the HDP will continue to cause a rift … and the way the candidacy issue has been resolved may give an incentive to [Good] Party politicians to cause problems when it comes to the opposition alliance relationship with the HDP,” Esen said. 

Even with the backing of other opposition groups, including the Islamist Felicity Party, however, Kilicdaroglu’s main battle would be to win over voters from the AKP’s conservative base. 

“Now that Kilicdaroglu has received an endorsement from a minor conservative party, whether or not he’ll be able to get support from conservative pious voters, some of whom supported the ruling party, that’s the critical question,” Esen said. 

“You can’t win an election only with CHP and HDP support.” 

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