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Turkey’s opposition attempts to close ranks, looks for consensus candidate

Turkey’s leading opposition bloc of six parties appears to have reunited with the Iyi Party's leader returning to the Table of Six.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

ANKARA — After major cracks in its ranks last week, Turkey's leading opposition bloc made progress in bridging its differences on Monday, in a bid to unify around one consensus candidate to run against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May. 

The reconciliation came after an intense shuttle diplomacy between the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Iyi Party over the weekend in a bid to strike a compromise between the two parties' leaders after Iyi's Meral Aksener made a bombshell statement on Friday, fanning speculation that her party left the alliance.

Iyi spokesperson Kursad Zorlu told journalists that Aksener and CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu briefly gathered in a one-on-one meeting before joining other opposition leaders to discuss potential candidates with only nine weeks to go to the country's fateful presidential and parliamentary elections

In a strongly worded statement on Friday, Aksener, the leader of the second-largest component of the opposition bloc, slammed the alliance over Kilicdaroglu’s decision to run against Erdogan. Iyi has been pressing the bloc to field the CHP's Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas or Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. Her statement was widely interpreted to mean that she was leaving the opposition coalition with only 10 weeks to go before Turkey’s crucial presidential and parliamentary elections.

The opposition bloc also includes four other opposition parties: the tiny Islamist Felicity Party, the Democrat Party and two offshoots of the ruling party: the Deva and Future parties. It has been working to set up a united front to challenge Erdogan’s government, which critics say has undercut the country’s democracy. In her unusually harsh statement, Aksener also called on either Yavas or Imamoglu to declare their own candidacy, defying their own party.

The mayors announced their loyalty to their leader Kilicdaroglu over the weekend, but both mayors and other heavyweights from both parties have been in conducting shuttle diplomacy between Iyi and the CHP on a compromise to hold the alliance intact.

Yavas and Imamoglu met with Aksener on Monday at the Iyi headquarters in Ankara. Speaking after their meeting, both mayors stressed the importance of the bloc's unity.

Zorlu, for his part, said the two mayors tabled a new proposal during the meeting under which both mayors would serve as vice presidents under Kilicdaroglu should the alliance win the presidential elections.  

Aksener’s statements set off a large-scale discussion over the fate of the opposition alliance over the weekend, with many arguing the fracture provided much-needed ammunition for Erdogan and the country’s ruling alliance.

The ruling Justice and Development Party is facing one of its toughest if not the toughest election in more than two decades amid country’s deepening economic woes. Coming atop the already existing financial problems, the government has also been facing growing criticism over its chaotic response to the twin earthquakes that struck 11 of the country’s provinces on Feb. 6, killing nearly 46,000 and causing colossal destruction.

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