Turkey’s Defeat-Weary Main Opposition Elects New Leader

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s main opposition party picked a new leader months after it suffered another defeat at the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and as the country heads toward local elections in March.

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Delegates of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, elected Ozgur Ozel as chairman at a party congress in Ankara that started Saturday and was set to continue on Sunday.

Ozel, 49, got 812 votes to Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s 536, Anadolu Agency reported. “We will work shoulder-to-shoulder with our organization for our party to take power,” Ozel said in a social media post.

Growing pressure

Ozel, a pharmacist by profession, has been a CHP lawmaker for more than a decade. As the party’s whip he worked closely with Kilicdaroglu until Erdogan’s victory in May’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Since then, the 75-year-old Kilicdaroglu had been under growing pressure to resign. The weight of the defeat effectively dissolved the six-party opposition bloc, raising concern within opposition circles that crucial cities — including Istanbul, Turkey’s largest, and Ankara, the capital - could be lost to the ruling party in local elections scheduled for March 31.

Kilicdaroglu was elevated to party leadership in 2010. Since 2009, when he ran - and lost - against an incumbent in the mayoral race for Istanbul, he hasn’t won a single election against the AK Party, which has been in power for more than two decades. Under Kilicdaroglu’s leadership CHP has remained the main opposition, losing four parliamentary and three presidential elections.

Kilicdaroglu went head to head against Erdogan in a presidential vote for the first time in May. Many opinion polls suggested the opposition would pull out a win amid soaring inflation that hurt popular support for the incumbent. Kilicdaroglu had enough support to push the contest to a second round, but then lost to Erdogan by more than four percentage points, or over 2 million votes, having been unable to counter the incumbent’s rhetoric that he was allied with terrorism and “LGBT ideology.”

Erdogan revived the accusation on Sunday as he addressed supporters in the northeastern city of Rize. Kilicdaroglu and Ozel “aren’t different from each other,” Erdogan said. “They both have walked side by side with terrorist organizations.” He referred to Ozel as “that person who won the congress.”

(Updates with Erdogan’s comments in final paragraph.)

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