New opposition leader brings excitement to Turkish politics

Kemal Kilidaroglu.jpg

The election of Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu as leader of the main Turkish opposition CHP party was heralded by the press as a potential earthquake in the country’s politics. EURACTIV Turkey contributed to this article.

K?l?çdaro?lu, a former civil servant, dubbed 'the Ghandi of Turkey' for his quiet but firm manner, was elected on Saturday by a landslide by delegates from CHP, the centre-left main opposition party in Turkey. Former leader Deniz Baykal resigned recently over a sex tape scandal.

K?l?çdaro?lu, 62, said his priority would be combating unemployment and graft. He is expected to focus on restoring the party's left-wing credentials and winning back poor voters from AK.

"[The AK Party rulers] rob you and build villas with pools for themselves and grow richer while claiming they are helping the poor," he told CHP supporters, who chanted "Prime Minister Kemal" and "Revolutionary Kemal". The CHP party was founded by Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), the founder of modern Turkey.

K?l?çdaro?lu pledged to enact a more democratic constitution (EURACTIV 05/05/10) and lower a 10% threshold for political parties to enter parliament. He said he supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU and asked Brussels to give a date for Turkish accession.

Analysts said a less statist CHP that re-established its social democratic credentials and shunned the nationalism of the Baykal era would nonetheless have a better chance at next year's parliamentary elections.

Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Istanbul Bilgi University, says Kilicdaroglu now has the opportunity to restore the CHP to a governing status it has not enjoyed for decades.

"It's quite obvious that the government is feeling very uncomfortable about this new development and there is no doubt in my mind that there is demand for change in the country," Ozel says, "partially because of AKP fatigue, partially because there are so many problems that have not been solved and partially because the arrogance of the AKP, after so many years in power, is finally getting to people," said Ozel, quoted by RFE/RL.

An opinion poll published this week suggested K?l?çdaro?lu would prop up the CHP votes above 30%. The party won 21% in the latest national election.

"The CHP is passing through a tremendous change. A new leadership is emerging and there is a lot of excitement because of new faces and a new leader," said Hursit Gunes, a newly-elected party assembly member.

"[K?l?çdaro?lu] proved that a new era has begun in Turkey, that the government is not without an alternative and the left can unify," said Vatan newspaper commentator Mustafa Mutlu.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

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