Turkey's Erdoğan meets main opposition CHP leader for first time in eight years

President Erdoğan met with Turkey's main opposition CHP chair Özgür Özel, marking the first such meeting in nearly eight years, one month after the CHP outshone Erdoğan's AKP in the local elections.

Duvar English

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held talks with Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel on May 2, the first such meeting in nearly eight years, just one month after the CHP outperformed Erdoğan's party in local elections.

The March 31 vote marked Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) worst defeat in more than 20 years in power. It revitalized the opposition CHP under new chief Özel, and strengthened Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoglu's standing as a strong future presidential contender.

Erdoğan subsequently vowed to correct any mistakes that had led to his party's defeat, which analysts attributed mainly to voter frustration with economic woes, especially soaring inflation.

Özel entered the AKP headquarters in Ankara just after 4 p.m. (1300 GMT). The talks were expected to focus on efforts to agree on a new constitution, economic developments and the situation in Gaza, according to state broadcaster TRT.

CHP executives stated that Özel thanked Erdoğan's Chief of Staff Hasan Doğan for arranging the meeting in the AKP headquarters rather then in the presidential palace which CHP has been criticizing since its construction.

CHP's Istanbul MP Namık Tan (L) and AKP Deputy Chair Mustafa Elitaş (R) also attend the meeting.

Even though it was reported that the meeting went smoothly and in a calm atmosphere, the seating arrangement and the empty chair next to Erdoğan drew ire for some, including Özel.

Özel's agenda for the talks was focused on economic problems, notably state pensions and the medium wage, foreign policy, and coordination between the central government and municipalities, according to party sources.

During the one hour and 35-minute meeting, a dais was set up in front of the AKP headquarters, but it was later removed.

Making a statement after the meeting, AKP Spokesperson Ömer Çelik said, "Our president stated that the dialogue should continue. He will organize a return visit at a time suitable for his schedule."

Sources told Gazete Duvar that the meeting could be characterized as productive for the CHP and that Özel left the meeting optimistic that progress could be made in solving the problems of the people.

After the meeting, Özel took quick steps outside and got into his car without taking questions from the journalists. After the visit, he went to CHP headquarters to meet with the central executive committee members.

What happened?

Analysts viewed the local elections as having dented Erdoğan's hopes of pushing through a new constitution, which could potentially extend his rule beyond 2028 when his term ends.

Parliament Speaker Numan Kurtulmuş of the AKP is leading talks on an issue that looks likely to dominate domestic politics this year. While the AKP and its allies have a parliamentary majority, Erdoğan would need broader support for a successful referendum on a new constitution.

Özel and Erdoğan meeting was the first between the Turkish president and a CHP leader since 2016, when he hosted then-chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu at the presidential palace after an attempted military coup on July 15 of that year.

The following month, Kılıçdaroğlu joined a huge rally staged by Erdoğan in a further show of political unity - though their relations remained frosty through till Kılıçdaroğlu's failed presidential bid in last year's national election.

AKP parliamentary group deputy chair Leyla Şahin Usta said last week that it was "abnormal" for CHP and President Erdoğan to have no interaction for such a long time, suggesting that former CHP chair Kılıçdaroğlu was responsible for the strained relationship.

After 13 years with Kılıçdaroğlu at the CHP helm, Özel became party leader last November amid a push for change in the secularist party, which had been dogged by in-fighting.