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Main opposition party in Turkey votes for change in leadership

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Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has had a new leader since early Sunday as CHP parliamentary group leader Özgür Özel defeated incumbent chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a two-round election.

Kılıçdaroğlu has run the CHP since 2010.

In the first round of the election Özel garnered 682 votes while Kılıçdaroğlu got 664, with neither of the contenders getting more than half the 1,366 delegates’ votes, which led to a second round.

Other contenders, former deputy İlhan Cihaner and former Party Assembly member Örsan Kunter Öymen, withdrew from the race before the voting commenced.

In the second round Özel garnered 812 votes, while Kılıçdaroğlu got 536.

As the CHP marked its centennial, the 38th general congress, themed “Democracy and Unity in the Second Century,” has drawn attention nationwide with its promise of defining the party’s future trajectory.

The Ankara Sports Hall, the venue for the congress, was bustling with activity as 1,366 delegates from 81 provinces gathered to cast their votes for a new chairman and party administration.

The CHP was part of a six-party opposition alliance in the May elections, which nominated the party’s leader, Kılıçdaroğlu, as their joint candidate. Kılıçdaroğlu was defeated by incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a runoff election on May 28.

Leading figures within the CHP have been sending strong signals of an imminent and dramatic transformation within the party, including the potential for a shift in the leadership, since Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat in May elections.

Erdoğan won 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent despite an economic crisis and anger over the response to February earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.

The congress was presided over by Ekrem İmamoğlu, mayor of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

İmamoğlu ended the yearslong Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul when he defeated the AKP’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won a rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been canceled due to supposed irregularities.

The run-up to the congress was marked by a so-called “signature war,” with candidates vying for delegate support, a process Cihaner criticized as being reduced to a “non-political” psychological battle overshadowed by media manipulation.

The main contest was between Kılıçdaroğlu, who has led the party for 13 years, and Özel, who represents the faction advocating for change.

Özel’s campaign promised transparency as he vowed to depart from “off-the-record” politics that characterized Kılıçdaroğlu’s tenure and a return to the party’s social democratic roots, emphasizing inclusivity and empowerment of party structures.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s tenure has been characterized by criticism of not winning elections, a perceived shift towards the right in parliament and a lack of dynamism among voters and party members.

In his first speech as chairman, Özel said he felt deeply honored and aware of the responsibility he had been given. He called for a “mobilization” to start the party’s second century with triumph and take the road to victory in the local elections in 2024. Özel pledged to maintain and build on the party’s 2019 municipal successes.

The first day of the CHP congress focused on the election of the chairman. The second day on Sunday is slated for the election of the 60-member Party Assembly and the 15-member High Disciplinary Board.

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