Ozgur Ozel aims to become leader of Turkey’s biggest opposition party this year, breaking through its historic ceiling of 25% nationwide support to ultimately unseat President Tayyip Erdogan, who has won elections for the past two decades.
However, Ozel, 49, stated in an interview that his Republican People’s Party (CHP) must first regain the faith of its own people, who were disillusioned by the party’s last bitter defeat to Erdogan in the May presidential and legislative elections.
Setting out his plans to challenge veteran CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Ozel said he would also reach out and address the problems of voters who have hitherto rejected the centre-left, secularist party.
“We aim to rebuild the shattered hopes, faith and sense of trust among the 25 million people who voted for us,” Ozel told Reuters, two weeks after announcing his bid to challenge Kilicdaroglu for the CHP leadership.
The CHP, established by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has always struggled to reach beyond its secularist grassroots towards conservatives.
“We aim to shatter this 25% invisible glass ceiling. We want to do this by being ourselves and determining our own position,” he said, saying he aimed to restore the party’s left-wing, social democratic identity.
Berk Esen, associate professor at Sabanci University, said there could be some change in the CHP if Ozel were elected leader, repairing recent damage done to the party, but he was sceptical about the prospects for fundamental transformation.
“The main opposition party is heading towards a very serious breaking point,” Esen said. “It is rotting from the inside, and I don’t think the staff that has watched that rot for a long time can change it.”
The CHP has long been hit by internal disagreements over its leadership and policy direction and the latest election showings have deepened the disputes.
The CHP won 25% of the vote in May’s parliamentary election while Erdogan, who has maintained power through his broad appeal to conservative and nationalist voters, comfortably beat Kilicdaroglu in the second round of the presidential vote.
Ozel said the CHP failed to analyse those defeats or set out a road map for March local elections, where it is hoping to retain control of the key Istanbul and Ankara municipalities that it won in 2019 after nearly two decades of AKP control.
A leadership vote will be held at the CHP congress on Nov. 4-5, with Kilicdaroglu and Ozel among five candidates. Kilicdaroglu, 74, has led the party since 2010.
Ozel said electing a new leader was the only way forward.
“If the emotional rupture experienced by the voter is not repaired, the voter may move to the point of staying away from the ballot box or even breaking away from politics.”