Kılıçdaroğlu loses party congress, Özel becomes new CHP leader

Turkish main opposition CHP voted the “revisionist” candidate Özgür Özel as its new chair against current chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu following the latter’s general and presidential electoral defeat. Özel became the 8th leader of the CHP since its foundation in 1923, ending Kılıçdaroğlu's 13-year rule.

Turkish main opposition CHP's new leader Özgür Özel

Ceren Bayar / Gazete Duvar

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader 74-year-old Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Nov. 5 lost the party congress to the “revisionist” candidate 49-year-old Özgür Özel.

CHP parliamentary group chair Özel received 812 votes whereas Kılıçdaroğlu remained at 536 in the second round of the congress, ending Kılıçdaroğlu's 13-year rule as party leader as the latter was punished by the delegates for the general and presidential electoral defeat.

The congress

The congress started on Nov. 4 in Arena Sports Hall in the capital Ankara. One of the leadership candidates, İlhan Cihaner, announced before the congress that he withdrew from the race.

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who is on the side of “revisionists,” chaired the congress.

As the chair of the CHP, Kılıçdaroğlu made the opening speech of the congress, saying the party marked its 100th age. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, founded the party in 1923. However, the party was closed by the military regime after the coup in 1980, and stayed closed until 1992.

Without explicitly mentioning his name, Kılıçdaroğlu criticized her alliance partner, opposition İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener, for leaving the alliance before his presidential candidacy. Akşener first left the alliance, saying Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidential candidacy was imposed upon her party, but then returned to it after İmamoğlu and Yavaş’s vice presidential candidacies.

“As you all know, there were people leaving the table and coming back to the table. I don't want to go into too much detail. However, I had to enter the election with these obstacles,” he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu said this would be the last time he was running for the party leadership.

Özgür Özel (L) and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (R)

Another candidate Örsan Öymen, philosophy professor, said Kılıçdaroğlu had lost 12 elections since he became CHP chair in 2010.

After his speech, Öymen announced on social media that he also withdrew from the election, leaving the race head-to-head between Kılıçdaroğlu and Özel.

In the evening hours, Özel also took the stage to make his candidacy speech, criticizing Kılıçdaroğlu's policies before and after the elections.

1,366 delegates from 81 provinces voted at the congress. In the first round of the election, Özel received 682 votes, whereas Kılıçdaroğlu remained at 664, leading to a second round due to the absolute majority requirement. Özel only needed two more votes to garner an absolute majority in the first round.

In the second round, Özel received 812 votes whereas Kılıçdaroğlu remained at 536. Kılıçdaroğlu left the congress area before Özel’s victory was announced, raising criticisms that he did not publicly congratulate Özel on the congress night.

In a social media post, Kılıçdaroğlu said, "I have carried the legacy of our Great Leader Atatürk with honor until today. Today, I bid farewell to this position with the decision made by our congress delegates. I would like to thank everyone who has supported our struggle so far. I congratulate our new Chair Özgür Özel and wish him success."

"We will work shoulder to shoulder with our entire organization to expand the wave of hope in this hall and make our party in power!," Özel said on X, formerly known as Twitter, after his victory.

İmamoğlu, who has been a vocal figure of the "revisionists," said, "I congratulate Mr Özgür Özel who was elected as the Party Chairman at the 38th Ordinary Congress of the Republican People's Party. I also thank everyone who contributed to the successful organisation of the congress. Now it is time for change in Turkey!"

Kılıçdaroğlu criticisms

Kılıçdaroğlu lost the presidential election against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by receiving 47.82 percent of the votes in the second round of the race on May 28.

Aside from the presidential election, the CHP received 25.41 percent of the votes in the May 14 parliamentary elections, falling short of expectations of near 30 percent vote. Kılıçdaroğlu later said he did not consider the election results as "defeat."

Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP's defeat in the presidential and general elections have increased the calls for change from the party ranks as well as CHP constituents.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is among CHP officials who have been signaling the need for a change in party leadership since the electoral defeat.

Özgür Özel

Born in the western Manisa province in 1974, Özel received his undergraduate education at Ege University Faculty of Pharmacy.

He became a CHP deputy first in 2011, and became CHP Group Deputy Chair in 2015. After Kılıçdaroğlu could not become a deputy due to his presidential candidacy, Özel became the party's parliamentary group chair in June.

Özel's first main test will be the local elections to be held on March 31, and it is a matter of question whether he will be able to form alliances with other opposition parties, some of which have been critical of the CHP after the elections, for especially crucial municipalities, such as Istanbul and Ankara.

(English version by Alperen Şen)