Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has been named as the presidential candidate for the country’s upcoming elections. He will challenge incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been facing criticism over his handling of the recent earthquakes that devastated the country. The election, which is expected to take place in mid-May, is seen as a crucial test for Turkey’s democracy.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the leader of the country’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was formed over a century ago by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. He is respected in opposition circles for his tireless campaigning for a restoration of Turkish democracy, but is seen as one of Erdogan’s weaker potential challengers due to a perceived lack of personal charisma.
Speaking in front of a large crowd of supporters in Ankara, Kilicdaroglu referred to the six-party alliance that he leads as “the table of peace and brotherhood.” He has vowed to free political prisoners, return Turkey to a parliamentary system of democracy, and restore independence to institutions such as the central bank.
The election comes in the aftermath of the Feb. 6 earthquakes, which killed over 51,000 people in Turkey and northern Syria and displaced millions more. Erdogan’s opponents and residents of the devastated southern region have criticized the government for a slow and disorganized response in the initial days following the disaster. The government is also under scrutiny for a series of official amnesties for poorly constructed buildings that would later crumble in the earthquakes.
Kilicdaroglu has led the CHP since 2010 and under his leadership, the party has lost a series of national elections to Erdogan’s ruling party. However, in 2019, the CHP managed to take control of the city governments of Istanbul and Ankara in local elections, which opposition leaders hope will be a blueprint for a nationwide victory this year.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia deposited $5 billion in Turkey’s central bank on Monday, in a sign of a thaw in relations between the two countries. The inflows of money from Gulf countries and Russia could help Erdogan survive this year’s election by providing a cushion to the Turkish state’s finances, which have been strained by a recent currency crisis.
The six-party opposition alliance fell into turmoil last week after Kilicdaroglu’s most important coalition partner, center-right leader Meral Aksener, briefly dropped out of the group after publicly opposing the opposition leader’s candidacy. Ms. Aksener rejoined the alliance on Monday after meeting Mr. Imamoglu and Mr. Yavas. She stood alongside Kilicdaroglu and other opposition leaders as they announced his candidacy, but said nothing. Under an agreement signed on Monday, Kilicdaroglu would have seven vice presidents in his government during a transition back to a parliamentary system, including all five of his coalition partners and Messrs. Imamoglu and Yavas.
As Turkey prepares for a critical election, many see it as a choice between a continuation of Erdogan’s rule and a renewed commitment to democracy under Kilicdaroglu.