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Turkey’s main opposition rules out potential rift in party over presidential candidacy in 2028

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Özgür Özel, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has announced that he won’t insist on running for the presidency in the 2028 election as his party’s candidate at the expense of letting a “historic opportunity” to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slip away.

The CHP leader on Tuesday spoke at his party’s group meeting, addressing a debate recently initiated within the party by its group deputy chairman Ali Mahir Başarır and lawmaker Mustafa Sarıgül regarding the party’s candidate for the 2028 presidential election. Both pointed to Özel as the possible candidate, leading to a discussion about a possible rift in the party with İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who is seen as Erdoğan’s strongest rival.

Özel said everyone can be sure that he will not make the mistake of imposing his candidacy and cause the CHP miss a historic opportunity, giving another chance to Erdoğan‘s “dwindling power.” His remarks led to relief among some social media users, who congratulated the CHP leader for ending speculation about his candidacy.

The CHP leader noted in an exclusive interview with the Sözcü daily in April that mistakes made by the country’s opposition bloc could have cost them a decisive victory over Erdoğan and his ruling party in the May 2023 general election.

The opposition bloc, comprising the CHP, the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party and four small opposition parties, which called itself the “Table of Six,” failed to get its presidential candidate, former CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a win against incumbent president Erdoğan. The group nominated Kılıçdaroğlu, despite then-İYİ leader Meral Akşener’s insistence that either İmamoğlu or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, both from the CHP, be nominated.

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 53,000 people.

Kılıçdaroğlu was voted out of CHP leadership at a party congress in November and was replaced by Özel, who had the backing of İmamoğlu.

Bahçeli-Özel meeting

Özel’s statements on Tuesday came after a meeting between the CHP chair and Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and an ally of President Erdoğan. The rare face-to-face meeting marked the first such encounter between the two party leaders in seven years.

The meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, took place at Bahçeli’s office in the parliament in Ankara and was concluded without any statements to the press.

According to Özel’s statements during his party’s group meeting, his visit to the MHP leader was “positive” and “efficient,” covering topics such as the election results, pensions, the minimum wage and foreign policy, including the Israeli war on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, which have been at the center of political discourse in Turkey in recent months.

Özel also met with Erdoğan following an eight-year hiatus last week.

Both meetings come against the backdrop of the local elections on March 31, which saw the CHP emerge as the leading party for the first time in 47 years, securing 37.7 percent of the vote, maintaining control of key cities and securing substantial gains in other regions, while Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), for the first time in 22 years, came in second, garnering only 35.4 percent of the vote.

Support for both ruling-party ally MHP also saw a significant decline in the local elections following a campaign marked by less intense rhetoric compared to the run-up to the general election held last May.

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