Manisa MP Özgür Özel takes aim at CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as he announces leadership bid

The parliamentary group leader of Turkiye’s main opposition, the Turkish People’s Party (CHP), Özgür Özel, has announced his candidacy for the party leadership at a press conference on Friday.

Özel criticised CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his team for failing to take “political responsibility for the defeat” following the recent presidential and parliamentary elections, where CHP again came off second best despite President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity being at its lowest since coming to power two decades ago.

“The great hope and belief in a change (of government) in Turkiye before the election quickly turned to deep disappointment (with the electoral defeat). Contrary to social demands and needs, our party’s management did not seriously investigate the reasons for the defeat and draw a new road map. They made different excuses for the result and didn’t take political responsibility for the defeat,” Özel said.

The Manisa MP, who is well known for standing up for miners and workers’ rights, accused Kılıçdaroğlu and his team of being more preoccupied with preserving their hold on the party instead of focussing on repairing the fractures appearing at grassroots level among disillusioned CHP supporters and voters following the twin election defeat.

“They focused on maintaining power within the party. Having lost their sense of trust, our voters were dragged into an emotional rupture so intense that they abandoned our party and even politics. The party management chose to ignore this rupture rather than detecting this situation and taking steps to repair it,” Özel stated.

“I am announcing my candidacy for the CHP leadership, not to gain power within the party, but to make the CHP, Atatürk’s party, the ruling party”

Talking at the party’s headquarters in the capital Ankara, Özel also slammed Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision to allow minor parties, including former senior members of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to stand on a CHP ticket at the May General Elections. As a result, politicians from these minor parties were allocated 39 of the 169 seats CHP won in Parliament at the expense of CHP candidates, without adding anything significant to the CHP vote share, which was up 2.69% from the 2018 General Election.

Özel was searing in his criticism: “The fact that our party gave 39 MPs to other parties left unforgettable damage in the history of our party. This process was carried out without internal party control. Even the elected boards were not informed. A management style that does not take responsibility is unacceptable.”

Explaining why he was throwing his hat into the leadership ring, Özel, who is a pharmacist by profession and has been an MP since 2011, said:

“I am announcing my candidacy for the CHP leadership, not to gain power within the party, but to make the CHP, Atatürk’s party, the ruling party.”

“We cannot enter the hundredth year of the [Turkish] Republic with the greatest despair in our history; we cannot allow this, I will not allow this, I won’t [permit] it, together we will not allow it,” the leadership contender stated.

“Because if CHP changes, Türkiye changes. This country is ours; this invitation is ours; this longing is ours,” he added.

According to local media reports, 43 CHP deputies attended Özel’s press conference. Soon after the event concluded, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu tweeted favourably about the candidacy announcement:

“Turkey will change if the CHP changes. I wish @eczozgurozel and his friends all the best in their new journey – one that will finally change Turkey.”

The CHP leadership contest is expected to take place at the CHP general congress later this year. It is not clear if Kılıçdaroğlu will stand. The CHP leader is no longer an MP after standing as a presidential candidate, with Turkish election ruling him out of parliamentary elections.

On Friday, another CHP member, philosophy professor Örsan Öymen, also announced his candidacy for the CHP leadership. He is the nephew of Altan Öymen, who was CHP leader between 1999-2000, and the son of the late journalist Mustafa Örsan Öymen.

Prof. Öymen currently lectures at Işık University in Istanbul. He said he was standing to challenge the party, which “is stuck between the status quoists” represented by the current management and the “fake reformists.”