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Turkey’s main opposition leader elected vice president of Socialist International

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Özgür Özel, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been elected vice president of Socialist International (SI), the worldwide organization of political parties seeking to establish democratic socialism, the party has announced.

Özel was elected on the second day of an SI Council Meeting held February 23-25 in Madrid. The meeting was hosted by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party led by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Sánchez has been serving as president of the SI since November 2022.

With Özel’s election, the CHP will be represented in the presidium of the organization by a vice president. SI has 34 vice presidents, according to its website.

The CHP leader, who delivered a speech following his election on Saturday, called on all social democrats to join forces against rising right-wing populism in Europe and the world.

Özel said one of the most important steps that can be taken by social democrats against the rise of right-wing populism is to stand by the people “who have been abused by the neoliberal economic order.”

“We need to strengthen democratic politics and increase solidarity among our parties against rising authoritarianism,” said Özel.

The CHP leader also talked about the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza caused by ongoing Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave.

He said he plans to pay a visit to Palestine in April to attract attention to the tragedy unfolding there, adding that he thinks the solution to the ongoing conflict in the region lies in the establishment of an independent state of Palestine on the basis of its 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel launched its war on Gaza following an unprecedented attack by the militant group Hamas in the south of Israel on October 7, which claimed around 1,200 lives.

Özel called on social democrats in Europe and around the world to raise their voices against the tragedy in Gaza.

SI was re-established in its current form in 1951 and has brought together 132 social democratic, socialist and labor parties from around the World since 2006.

Although the CHP has been a member of the SI since 1976, the party’s loyalty and compliance with social democrat values and whether it deserves to be an SI member frequently comes into question due to some of the party’s policies.

Some CHP mayors and politicians such as Tanju Özcan, the mayor of western Bolu province, are notorious for their anti-refugee policies and rhetoric.

The party’s former chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who was the joint presidential candidate of an opposition alliance for the presidential election held in May, drew ire for making an election alliance for the runoff election with the far-right, ultranationalist Victory Party (ZP). He was defeated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Kılıçdaroğlu also promised to send Syrian refugees who had taken shelter in Turkey back to Syria if he was elected president, a promise that many interpreted as being a populist and not befitting the leader of a “social-democrat” party in the wake of the rising anti-refugee sentiment in the country.

Kılıçdaroğlu, who faced calls for his resignation following his election defeat against Erdoğan, suffered another defeat against Özel at a party congress in November, stepping down as the party leader, a post he had occupied since 2010.

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