Kilicdaroglu Bids to Lead Turkish Opposition Against Erdogan at Election

Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he will run for the leadership of Turkey’s main opposition party and challenge Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at elections due next year.

Kilicdaroglu, 61, will run for the post at the Republican People’s Party annual congress on May 22-23, after Deniz Baykal stepped down as leader a week ago, he told reporters at a news conference in Ankara today. Kilicdaroglu, the only candidate so far, served as a deputy chief of the party’s 97 legislators in the 550-seat parliament. He has the support of both remaining deputy leaders in the legislature, state-run Anatolia news agency said.

The Republicans won 21 percent of the vote at a general election in 2007, losing to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which won the biggest landslide in almost 50 years. The Republicans, who say they’re social democratic, accuse Justice and Development of corruption and mixing Islam with politics.

Kilicdaroglu is a legislator for Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul. He ran for Istanbul mayor in local elections last year, getting 37 percent public support compared with 44 percent for the Justice party candidate. He was a bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry, chief of the social security institution and served on the board of lender Turkiye Is Bankasi AS, in which the Republicans own a minority stake.

Popularity Increases

The popularity of the Republicans has increased since Baykal’s resignation, Haberturk said on May 15 citing a poll of 508 people by research company Konsensus Arastirma & Danismanlik. Backing for the party rose to 27.2 percent from 24.8 percent last month, it said. Support for Justice fell to 33.8 percent from 38.7 percent, the survey said.

Kilicdaroglu is the most popular leadership candidate, Metropoll Stratejik & Sosyal Aristirmalar said in a telephone poll of 1,100 people in 31 provinces of Turkey on May 12-13. Thirty-one percent of respondents said he should be leader. Mustafa Sarigul, who heads the rival Turkey’s Change Movement, should replace Baykal, 7.7 percent said.

The party is currently embroiled in a political battle with Erdogan’s group over constitutional amendments passed by parliament on May 4. The Republicans have asked the Constitutional Court to cancel the changes, saying they weaken the independence of the judiciary, which has opposed Erdogan’s efforts to ease curbs on religious expression.

Turkey is due to hold a nationwide referendum on the legal revisions, which also boost rights for bureaucrats to join unions, enhance data protection and make it easier to try army officers. The vote is due to take place on Sept. 12, the anniversary of the 1980 military coup.

The Republicans’ support at the 2007 general election was the most since 1977, when it won 41 percent of the vote under Bulent Ecevit’s leadership. The party was banned after the 1980 coup and re-established in 1992.

Baykal won 23 percent of the vote at municipal elections last year. Erdogan’s party got 39 percent compared with 47 percent at the general election in 2007. The Nationalist Action Party is Turkey’s third-biggest party.

Former Resistance Movement

The Republican People’s Party was formed in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army general and modern Turkey’s founder. It has roots in a resistance movement formed by Ataturk to battle foreign powers including Greece and Britain who occupied Turkey nine decades ago. Its leaders have also included Ismet Inonu and Hikmet Cetin.

Kemal Anadol and Hakki Suha Okay, the two deputy chiefs of the party’s lawmakers in parliament, support Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Legislator Cevdet Selvi was appointed last week to lead the party until this week’s congress.

Baykal, 71, resigned on May 10 after a video appeared on the internet allegedly showing him with a female lawmaker. He first became head of the party eighteen years ago and served as leader intermittently since. Sixty-two percent of voters thought Baykal’s decision to step down was correct, Metropoll said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Berat Meric in Ankara at americ@bloomberg.net; Steve Bryant at sbryant5@bloomberg.net

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