Mar 7, 2023, 7:30am EST

Who is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate Turkish opposition parties have united behind to contest Erdogan?

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accompanied by IYI Party leader Meral Aksener and DEVA Party leader Ali Babacan, talks to media following a meeting of the opposition alliance in Ankara, Turkey March 6, 2023. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan

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The News

Turkey’s opposition parties united behind a single candidate in a bid to unseat the country’s longtime ruler President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May’s election.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu — dubbed “Turkey’s Gandhi” by his most ardent supporters, largely because of an apparent physical resemblance to the Indian resistance leader — is a retired civil servant and economist.

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Know More

Kilicdaroglu will be the face of a coalition of six Turkish opposition parties, who have banded together in the hopes of ending Erdogan’s two-decade rule.

A social democrat, Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the longtime leader of the Republican People’s Party, and previously ran the country’s Social Security Agency.

But he has faced some criticism from opponents who fear he lacks the charisma to beat Erdogan. During talks last week, Good Party leader Meral Aksener briefly split from the coalition, angry that neither Istanbul nor Ankara’s popular mayors were selected to stand for election instead. Aksener and her party rejoined the bloc after negotiating that the mayors would both run for a joint vice presidency.

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Step Back

Erdogan is facing his most difficult re-election in 20 years as Turkey grapples with the fallout of last month’s devastating earthquake and the country’s declining economy.

He elected to hold the 2023 elections slightly ahead of schedule on May 14, even as some question the feasibility of voting in the 10 provinces impacted by the earthquake, which killed more than 45,000 people and destroyed crucial infrastructure.

Polling conducted last week shows Erdogan enjoys a wide lead over the opposition.

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  • In 2017 exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar compared Kilicdaroglu to India’s Gandhi, contrasting Kilicdaroglu’s 280-mile long protest walk against Erdogan’s corruption, from Istanbul to Ankara, to Gandhi’s Salt March in India in 1930. In 2017, Dundar wrote in The Washington Post, Kilicdargolu’s party couldn’t break past 25% of Turkey’s popular support. “Erdogan always seems to succeed in keeping the opposition on its back foot,” he said.