Turkey’s bickering opposition leaders ended months of fierce debate Monday and agreed to name the head of the main secular party as their joint candidate against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 14 polls.
A last-ditch deal aimed at averting a split of the opposition vote will see CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu name the popular mayors of Istanbul and Ankara as vice presidents should he end Erdogan’s two-decade rule.
“We would have been eliminated had we split up,” Kilicdaroglu told huge crowds of cheering supporters after emerging from hours of tense talks.
Erdogan faces the fight of his political life in what many view as Turkey’s most consequential election since its birth as a post-Ottoman republic 100 years ago.
The 68-year-old leader needs to overcome the twin hurdles of an economic crisis and that aftermath of a devastating earthquake as he seeks to extend his Islamic style of rule until 2028.
Opinion polls point to a tight race that remains far too close to call. But Erdogan’s task had appeared to become a little easier when one of the main leaders of the six-party opposition alliance walked out of the talks on Friday.
Meral Aksener has argued that Kilicdaroglu – a soft-spoken 74-year-old from Turkey’s long-marginalised Alevi community – lacked the public appeal to defeat Erdogan in the presidential ballot. She has instead urged the popular CHP mayors of either Istanbul or Ankara to step into the race.
The two met Aksener on Monday in a make-or-break attempt to bring her nationalist Iyi Party back into the opposition fold. “Our nation cannot tolerate a split,” Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas told reporters after the meeting.
The opposition last united in an effort to unseat Erdogan’s allies in municipal elections held in 2019. Their ability to regain control of Turkey’s two main cities shattered Erdogan’s aura of invincibility and set the stage for the possible return to power by the party of the secular state’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
But Kilicdaroglu wanted Yavas and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to keep their posts to avoid the threat of handing back control of either city to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted party.