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Turkey’s opposition fractures ahead of March polls

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Turkey’s main opposition party lost a crucial ally Monday in its bid to form a united front against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling coalition in high-stakes March municipal polls.

The secular opposition joined forces in landmark 2019 elections that saw the ruling Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose power in İstanbul and Ankara for the first time in Erdoğan’s rule.

But its efforts to do the same in May’s presidential election fell short and ended in bitter internal feuds.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) last month ousted Erdoğan’s challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as leader and picked the relatively untested power broker Özgür Özel to lead the party in March.

The nationalist İYİ (Good) Party pulled out of the alliance in the wake of the election and blamed the CHP for the opposition’s poor showing in the parliamentary portion of May’s vote.

And the main pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) party changed its name to Peoples’ Equality and Democratic Party (HEDEP) and aired plans to run its own candidates in March — a move that could help Erdoğan’s allies by splitting the vote in ethnically mixed cities such as İstanbul.

The CHP’s Özel mounted a furious effort in the past few weeks to win the İYİ Party back on side.

But the İYİ Party announced after a decisive board meeting Monday that it would field its own candidates in March.

“Our party decided to enter the elections freely and independently,” spokesman Kürşad Zorlu told reporters.

Kurdish anger

Erdoğan has made winning back İstanbul — a city where he grew up playing street football and which he headed as mayor in the 1990s — his main mission after securing re-election to a final five-year term.

Turkey’s economic capital and ancient seat of power is now run by the CHP’s popular and overtly ambitious Ekrem İmamoğlu.

The 52-year-old is widely seen as the opposition’s best bet at winning back the presidency from Erdoğan’s AKP in 2028.

İmamoğlu did not stand for president in May because he had earlier been convicted of a hugely controversial defamation charge that his supporters viewed as Erdoğan’s political vendetta for losing in 2019.

The İstanbul mayor could be forced to quit and drop out of politics for a few years if his conviction is upheld by a higher court.

İmamoğlu won in 2019 thanks to open support from the İYİ Party and indirect backing from the then HDP.

The Kurdish party decided not to field a candidate at the time to avoid splintering the opposition vote.

But Kurdish voters are seething at the CHP’s decision to turn against them between the first and second rounds of May’s presidential ballot.

The CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu tried to win over Erdoğan’s right-wing voters by attacking “terrorists” — code word for Kurdish militants who have been fighting for broader autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

The HEDEP party is expected to make a final decision about the March polls in the coming weeks.

But HEDEP spokeswoman Ayşegül Doğan said Monday that her party has already started to select its future mayoral candidates.

“We have completed our preparations to enter the local elections with our own candidates all over Turkey,” Doğan said.

© Agence France-Presse

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