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Turkey's opposition names senior MP as Erdogan poll challenger

Muharrem Ince, a 39-year veteran of the Republican Peoples Party, promised to be an 'impartial president'
Muharrem Ince speaks at a press conference (AA)

Turkey's main opposition party on Friday named senior lawmaker Muharrem Ince, known for his fiery and impassioned rhetoric, as its candidate to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June 24 elections.

The leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who had already made clear he would not be standing, confirmed Ince's candidacy at a packed meeting in Ankara.

"On June 24, I will, God willing, be president by the wish of the people," Ince added after being called to the stage.

“I will be the president of 80 million, of rightists and leftists, of Alevis and Sunnis, of Turks and Kurds. I will be an impartial president."

In a symbolic move, Kilicdaroglu pulled the CHP pin out of Ince's jacket and replaced it with a Turkish flag.

Ince's candidacy was earlier approved at a meeting of the CHP's MPs where all 110 of its lawmakers voted for him to stand.

Ince, who turned 54 on Friday, faces an uphill struggle to convince voters in the 24 June polls, facing Turkey's most experienced and rhetorically gifted campaigner in the shape of Erdogan.

Muharram Ince poses with his family after announcing his candidacy. Translation: "We're ready"

Yet Ince's greatest political assets, his rhetorical skills and his impassioned speeches, have made him a favourite with the faithful of the CHP in recent years.

His tough talking has drawn a sharp contrast with the more bookish manners of Kilicdaroglu, who has led the CHP since 2010 but without ever seriously troubling Erdogan.

Ince twice - in 2014 and 2018 - challenged Kilicdaroglu for the leadership of the CHP but failed to oust the incumbent leader.

Ince has generally been more ready than Kilicdaroglu to adopt a gloves-off approach towards Erdogan, raising the prospect of a fierce political campaign.

He has famously vowed to sell off Erdogan's gigantic presidential palace opened in 2014 should he be elected.

Ince's nomination came after a turbulent couple of weeks for the CHP with the party faithful reacting with horror to rumours that former president (and former Erdogan ally) Abdullah Gul was set to be nominated as their candidate.

A landmark

The 24 June polls, which will see parliamentary and presidential elections held on the same day, will be a landmark in modern Turkish history.

After the elections, a new presidential system agreed in an April 2017 referendum which the CHP has claimed gives the head of state authoritarian powers will come into force.

Should Erdogan win, he will receive another five-year mandate which would allow him to press on with a transformation of Turkey that began when he first became prime minister in 2003. 

The pace of the campaign is set to be irregular, with activity slowing markedly for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan due to begin in two weeks and then accelerating in a frantic final 10 days.

The CHP is due to make an alliance with three other opposition parties - notably the new Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener and the Islamist Felicity Party - for the elections.

This will see the parties field joint lists for the parliamentary elections but separate candidates for the presidential polls.

The Iyi Party is set to field Aksener, while the Felicity Party will field its leader Temel Karamollaoglu, after failing to persuade Gul to take the role.

The earliest voting in the diaspora is set to start on 9 June in the US.

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