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Turkey's opposition alliance fractures, fails to agree on challenger to Erdogan

The Iyi Party will not support the opposition coalition’s top candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the presidential elections.
Kilicdaroglu and Aksener

Turkey’s nationalist Good (Iyi) Party leader Meral Aksener announced on Friday that her party would not support the opposition coalition's joint candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu to challenge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the critical presidential elections expected to be held on May 14, dealing a blow to the opposition's chances of winning against the country’s strongman incumbent. 

Striking an unusually harsh tone, Aksener said the insistence of the five other parties in the six-member opposition bloc on Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy was not a rational choice. 

“Personal ambitions were given preference over [the interests of] Turkey … I regret to say that as of yesterday, the [opposition coalition] has lost its ability to represent the will of the nation,” said Aksener. 

Her remarks have been largely interpreted as a sign that her party is stepping out of the opposition bloc.

Five parties within the country’s opposition bloc agreed on Thursday to support main opposition leader Kilicdaroglu as a joint candidate. Yet Iyi, the second-largest opposition party within the bloc known as the “Table of Six,” remained intransigent. Along with main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Iyi, the bloc includes four others: the Islamist Felicity Party, the tiny Democrat Party and two offshoots of the ruling party: the Deva and Future parties.

Asked about the Aksener’s outburst, Kilicdaroglu said, “Don’t worry. All pieces will fall into place," without elaborating. 

Speaking after the meeting with his party members later on, he vowed to hold the opposition alliance intact.

The CHP has called for an emergency meeting, which was still going on at the time of publication. Turkish news outlets reported that the Future and Democrat parties also convened their party members. The five opposition parties were working on a joint statement in response to Aksener’s salvo.

Iyi has been pressing the opposition bloc to nominate the CHP's Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas or Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as potential joint candidates for the Table of Six, citing polls that put Kilicdaroglu's chances of winning lower than theirs. Aksener called on either Yavas or Imamoglu to bypass the opposition coalition and declare their own candidacy. 

"Our nation is calling you to do your duty," she said. 

Several opinion polls give Yavas and Imamoglu a stronger lead than Kilicdaroglu. Yet a Turkish court sentenced Imamoglu to jail time in December, slapping him with a political ban that he is currently appealing.

Yavas, for his part, is unable to secure the support of Turkey's largest minority, the Kurds, who stand out as the kingmakers in the upcoming elections. The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party also gathered its heavyweights after Aksener's move, the Turkish press reported. 

Neither of the two mayors have yet commented on the call, but Imamoglu tweeted yesterday that he was standing by his leader. 

Aksener’s statement also made cracks within her party. Bulent Gursoy, an adviser to Aksener, said he was resigning, announcing his support of Kilicdaroglu.

Several party members also resigned from the party on social media.  

Iyi's move will deal a blow to the opposition alliance's years-long efforts to set up a united front against Erdogan's government. Turkey is set to head to the polls for parliamentary and presidential elections in mid May, which many government critics believe to be the country's last chance to reverse Turkey's democratic backslide under Erdogan's more than two decades of rule.

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