May 17 (Bloomberg) -- 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, said at a press conference today that he will compete 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. Kilicdaroglu, the only candidate so far, served as a deputy chief of the party’s 97 legislators in the 550-seat parliament until today. He has the support of both remaining deputy leaders in the legislature and at least 60 lawmakers, 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.
While Kilicdaroglu won backing from Republican party lawmakers, the party’s central executive called on him to drop his leadership bid to allow Baykal to resume his post.
“It’s essential for the future of our party and our country” that Baykal returns, party official Mustafa Ozyurek said after a meeting of the executive. Baykal was the victim of a government plot and bringing in another leader would mean allowing the plotters to win, he said.
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 has served as leader intermittently since.
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, according to a telephone poll of 1,100 people in 31 provinces of Turkey on May 12-13, Metropoll Stratejik & Sosyal Aristirmalar said. 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 changes, 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.
The Republican’s 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.
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 the U.K., which occupied Turkey nine decades ago. Its leaders have also included Ismet Inonu and Hikmet Cetin.
Legislator Cevdet Selvi was appointed last week to lead the party until this week’s congress.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Jerusalem at email@example.com.