Turkey: Opposition changes leader after Erdogan’s defeat

Turkey’s main opposition party on Sunday replaced its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, with a still inexperienced former pharmacist, following a bitter election defeat against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP, Social Democrat) has been divided since Mr. Kilicdaroglu lost a hotly contested runoff against the Turkish president in May.

At the party’s annual congress, delegates voted to replace Kiliçdaroglu with the relatively unknown Ozgur Ozel, after squandering what many see as the opposition’s best chance to end two decades of Islamic-conservative rule by Mr. Erdoğan

The May election took place amid a severe cost-of-living crisis that analysts blame on Mr. Erdoğan

Kilicdaroglu managed to assemble a multifaceted alliance that includes both right-wing nationalists and left-wing socialists and Kurds.

But the six-party bloc nearly fractured months before the election and subsequently performed poorly in the polls.

For his part, Erdogan managed to consolidate his control of parliament thanks to the support of Islamic and ultra-nationalist groups.

Kilicdaroglu then upset many within his own party by refusing to concede defeat and resign.

The 74-year-old unsuccessful candidate in the last presidential election lost his leadership post after two heated votes at the party’s congress to a candidate backed by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.

Mr. Ozel spent much of his career working as a pharmacist in the tourist city of Izmir (west), a stronghold of the opposition to Mr. Erdoğan

He later became the president of the Turkish Pharmacists Association and was elected to Parliament in 2011.

The 49-year-old speaker won the final vote by 812 votes to 536, after presenting himself as the “change” candidate.

But the vote focused much more on the personalities of the two men than on particular policies.

Kilicdaroglu likened attempts to expel him to a “stab in the back,” Mr. Ozel, for his part, emphasized his desire to “write a new history and reshape Turkish politics.”