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Turkey's opposition split over Erdogan challenger

IYI leader Aksener says she won't 'bow down' and wants a stronger candidate to face Erdogan in May's presidential election

IYI leader Aksener says she won't 'bow down' and wants a stronger candidate to face Erdogan in May's presidential election

Turkey's right-wing nationalist Good Party (IYI) withdrew from the country's opposition alliance Friday over the selection of Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as the candidate to challenge incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming national elections.

The split comes just weeks before Turkish voters will head to the polls. Erdogan — who has been in power for two decades — this week said the vote, originally scheduled for June, would be staged on May 14.

Meral Aksener, who leads IYI, the second largest party in the opposition alliance, said IYI would not "bow down" to accept what they felt was a weak candidate, instead putting forth the names of the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara as preferable.

In making her argument, Aksener cited polls showing that both Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu would beat Erdogan handily.

Split opposition plays into Erdogan's hands

She and the other party leaders had agreed to Kilicdaroglu's candidacy Thursday, with Aksener herself announcing, "We have reached a common understanding concerning our joint presidential candidate." Yet she revised her stance after long consultations at IYI party headquarters in Ankara Thursday night and Friday morning.

"I'm sorry to say that, as of yesterday, the Table of Six has lost its ability to reflect the will of the nation in its decisions," said Aksener.

"It is no longer a platform through which potential candidates can be discussed," she said, "but a table that works to rubber-stamp a single candidate."

Though Kemal Kilicdaroglu has made his candidacy clear for months, voters have little faith in him as he has failed to win a single election in 13 years of leading the CHP. The mayors, on the other hand, wrested office in two Erdogan strongholds in Turkey's 2019 municipal elections.

Despite the untimely split, Kilicdaroglu seemed to take the issue in stride, saying, "don't worry, all the pieces will fall into place."

Still, Kilicdaroglu's candidacy could play into Erdogan's hands at a time when observers saw him potentially weakened.

His chances of overcoming voter misgivings about his performance — with an economy in the doldrums and public opinion shifting away from him for his response to the recent devastating earthquakes that killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey — would seem boosted by the prospect of a split opposition putting forth multiple candidates.

js/rc (AP, Reuters)