May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Kemal Kilicdaroglu won the leadership of Turkey’s main opposition party that will challenge Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections due next year.
Kilicdaroglu, 61, a lawmaker for Istanbul, got the post at the Republican People’s Party annual congress today. Deniz Baykal stepped down as leader earlier this month after first becoming its head 18 years ago. Kilicdaroglu, the only candidate left in the leadership contest, was deputy chief of the party’s 97 legislators in the 550-seat parliament.
The general elections may prove tougher for Kilicdaroglu. The Republican People’s Party, formed in 1924 by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, lost the 2007 general elections to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which won the biggest landslide victory in almost 50 years. The opposition accuses its main rival of trying to undo Turkey’s secular system by mixing Islam with politics.
“We will rebuild Turkey; we will improve democracy with rule of law,” Kilicdaroglu told delegates at the party’s meeting today in Ankara.
Kilicdaroglu has a little over a year to improve his party’s chances of victory against Erdogan. The country needs to ensure political stability to implement measures to win European Union membership as well as bolster economic growth and keep inflation at the lowest level in more than three decades.
The popularity of the Republicans has risen since Baykal’s resignation, Haberturk newspaper said on May 15, citing a poll of 508 people by research company Konsensus Arastirma & Danismanlik. Support for the party climbed to 27.2 percent from 24.8 percent last month, it said. Support for Justice fell to 33.8 percent from 38.7 percent, according to the survey.
Baykal, 71, resigned on May 10 after a video appeared on the Internet allegedly showing him with a female lawmaker.
Kilicdaroglu has been a bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry and also served on the board of lender Turkiye Is Bankasi AS, in which his party owns a minority stake.
The party is 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 on the grounds that they weaken the independence of the judiciary, which has opposed Erdogan’s efforts to ease curbs on religious expression.
Turkey is scheduled 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.