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We squandered chance to topple Erdoğan in May: CHP leader

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The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) openly admitted that mistakes made by the country’s opposition coalition could have cost them a decisive victory over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party in the May elections, in an exclusive interview with the Sözcü daily on Tuesday.

The CHP, under the leadership of Özgür Özel, emerged as the top party in Sunday’s local elections with 37.7 of the nationwide vote according to preliminary results, for the first time in almost half a century. The AKP, for the first time in 22 years, trailed behind as the second party with 35.4 percent of the vote. This marks a significant departure from the 2019 local elections where the AKP stood at 44.3 percent and the CHP at 30.1 percent.

Despite this historic success, Özel’s reflections were steeped in a sense of what might have been if the opposition had not made strategic missteps.

The nationalist İYİ (Good) Party and the CHP established the “Nation Alliance” before the 2018 general election, which was extended to the 2019 local elections and the presidential election last May with the inclusion of four small opposition parties, calling itself the “Table of Six.”

The alliance, however, failed to get its presidential candidate, former CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a win against incumbent president Erdoğan.

Erdoğan won 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent in the runoff on May 28 despite an economic crisis and anger over the response to February earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.

Özel emphasized that the CHP has exceeded expectations by growing from a base of 25 percent support to a commanding 38 percent share of the vote.

This increase was a significant leap forward for the party and its best result since 1977.

Özel attributed this success to the CHP’s ability to correctly interpret popular sentiment and build effective partnerships reminiscent of the party’s strategy under its former leader, Bülent Ecevit, who delivered the CHP victories in the 1970s.

Commenting on the reasons for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) defeat, Özel said the opposition had learned from past mistakes and that the AKP had misinterpreted its narrow victory in the last elections as a triumph.

Despite the CHP’s significant successes, including gaining control of major cities such as İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir, Özel rejected the idea of pushing for early elections. He emphasized that the party respects the voters’ decision and needs strategic patience to build on the momentum of the local elections and create a more inclusive and representative political climate in Turkey.

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