Turkey's main opposition parties formalize İhsanoğlu's candidacy for presidency

Turkey's main opposition parties formalize İhsanoğlu's candidacy for presidency

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Turkeys main opposition parties formalize İhsanoğlus candidacy for presidency

CHP deputy parliamentary group head Engin Altay (L) and his counterpart from MHP, Oktay Vural (R), deliver the signatures formalizing Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu's candidacy to Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek (C), in Ankara on June 29. AA Photo

Turkey's two main opposition parties on June 29 formally backed a figure known as a devout Muslim to challenge an expected bid for the presidency by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who heads the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

The Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) submitted a joint application to parliament to nominate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, an academic and former head of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as their candidate in August presidential elections.

In a televised meeting with Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, senior opposition lawmakers submitted the signatures making Ihsanoğlu the first candidate to formally enter the presidential race.

Submitting the petition, CHP parliamentary group deputy chair Engin Altay said their nominee was not a reflection of a particular group, understanding or ideological approach, but a candidate for whom the citizens would vote for peace in confidence for the protection of their rights.

His counterpart from the MHP, Oktay Vural, said their nomination was an invitation for peace, unity and honesty. “We believe Mr. İhsanoğlu will conduct this assignment in an understanding of embracing democracy, rule of law and freedom,” he added. 

Erdoğan's name is widely expected to be unveiled on July 2 as his party's candidate for Turkey's first democratic presidential vote on August 10.

The main opposition parties delivered a big surprise earlier this month by throwing their support behind Ihsanoğlu, a little-known figure tasked with winning votes from the AKP's traditionally pious electorate.

The decision to back a political novice, seen by many as conservative and Islamic-leaning, alarmed the secular segments of the society, who accuse Erdoğan of forcing Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim country. But Ihsanoğlu clearly stressed the need to "keep religion out of politics."

Twenty-one lawmakers from the CHP refused to sign their names while ultra-nationalist MHP's lawmakers gave Ihsanoğlu their full backing. 

Born in Cairo to Turkish parents, 70-year-old Ihsanoğlu stepped down in December as head of the OIC and served as an envoy to Bosnia and Gambia in a long diplomatic career.

Speaking five languages, he is seen as a reconciliatory and moderate figure, in stark contrast to Erdoğan, whose uncompromising stance critics say has left Turkish society more polarised than ever.   But Erdoğan, whose AKP has won every election since 2002, remains the most popular leader in the country, with polls suggesting that he will win an outright victory in the first round on August 10.

A recent survey by pollster Genar gave Erdoğan 55.2 percent of the vote against Ihsanoğlu on 35.8 percent.

İhsanoğlu will pay a visit to Anıtkabir, the tomb of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, today. He will also travel to his home town, Yozgat, this week. He also plans to visit the families of the Soma mining disaster in Manisa.