ISTANBUL, March 4 (Reuters) – Leaders of Turkey’s opposition alliance were expected to meet on Saturday after one of the group’s main parties quit the bloc amid disagreement over who should run for president in a national election scheduled for May.
The public split on Friday followed months of simmering discord in the alliance and was seen by analysts as a blow to opposition hopes of unseating President Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan said this week the elections would go ahead on May 14, despite criticism of his government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquakes, which killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey.
Meral Aksener, leader of the center-right nationalist IYI Party, the second biggest in the alliance, announced on Friday the party was leaving the bloc.
She said that at a presidential candidate selection meeting this week, five parties in the alliance proposed Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as their candidate.
Aksener accused members of the alliance of pressuring her party and defying people’s will, adding that she proposed Mansur Yavas and Ekrem Imamoglu, CHP mayors of the capital Ankara and Istanbul respectively, as candidates.
The CHP has the largest voter base in the alliance followed by IYI Party. According to Kilicdaroglu’s daily schedule, the leaders of the opposition alliance will meet at 1400 GMT.
Kilicdaroglu has said that there is no room for political games in the alliance and signaled that more parties could join the bloc.
The opposition has failed in previous national votes to pose a serious challenge to Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades. It has cooperated more closely since taking control of major municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party in local elections in 2019.
Erdogan’s popularity had been dipping amid a cost of living crisis even before last month’s earthquakes. However, analysts said the opposition disagreement benefited the ruling alliance of Erdogan and his nationalist ally MHP.
“Clearly this unexpected development hands Erdogan and Bahceli a tremendous psychological victory, as well as reinforcing the belief that the opposition is incapable of dealing with the challenges of governing Turkey,” said Atilla Yesilada, analyst at GlobalSource Partners.