World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkish secularists elected new leader on Saturday in a vote that saw Kilicdaroglu grabbed power from ex-leader who was hit by a sex scandal.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu became CHP's 7th chairman by getting 1,189 votes on the first day of CHP's 33rd general assembly meeting.
Turkey's main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), which represents secularist forces including the military and senior judges, was thrown into disarray when veteran party leader Deniz Baykal resigned following a sex tape scandal.
Baykal fell out of favour with middle-class voters by firmly resisting the AK Party's reform steps to pare back the powerful army's influence in politics, reform the judiciary and liberalise the economy. He kept a tight grip on the party that led to a number of former loyalists resigning.
The new chairman, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a 62-year former civil servant, said his priority would be combating unemployment and graft. He is expected to focus on restoring the party's left-wing credentials and winning back poor voters from AKP.
"(The AK Party rulers) rob you and build villas with pools for themselves and grow richer while claiming they are helping the poor," he told CHP supporters who chanted "Prime Minister Kemal" and "Revolutionary Kemal".
Kilicdaroglu, the only candidate, will find it difficult to eclipse Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who remains very popular among Turks. AK has a huge parliamentary majority and is currently pressing constitutional reforms Baykal opposed as an AK attempt to cement its hold on power.
Baykal lost two national elections to the AK Party. Erdogan won 47 percent of the votes in 2007 general elections while the CHP polled 21 percent. An opinion poll published this week suggested Kilicdaroglu would win the CHP more votes.
Kilicdaroglu pledged to enact a "more democratic" constitution and lower a 10 percent threshold for political parties to enter parliament.
Founded by Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, the CHP under 71-year old Baykal had opposed many EU-driven reforms and was accused by critics inside and outside the party of being out of touch with a rapidly changing country.
"I trust that Kilicdaroglu will defeat Turkey's poverty and bring equality for all. He is our hope," said Ahmet Duran Demir, a 65-year old pensioner who said he came from Istanbul to attend the party convention.
Kilicdaroglu said he supported Turkey's aim to join the European Union, and asked Brussels to give a date for Turkish accession.
"He is a very, very big chance for the CHP. Kilicdaroglu will bring the CHP to power next year and become the prime of minister of Turkey," said Ozlem Kalay, a 43-year tourism agent.
Baykal, who quit this month after the release of an Internet video allegedly showing him and a female colleague semi-clothed in a bedroom, did not run again in Saturday's election. Baykal said he was the victim of a "government conspiracy". Kilicdaroglu also said that a "conspiracy" was plotted against former chairman of CHP Deniz Baykal.
Analysts say Kilicdaroglu, a soft-spoken CHP apparatchik from the mainly Kurdish southeast, could breathe new life into the party before elections due by July 2011.
The CHP old guard's opposition to reform has lost it support among liberals and urban secularists, who find themselves more in tune with Erdogan's agenda to bring the Muslim country of 71 million people closer to the EU.
The AK Party, which draws core support from a rising middle class in the Anatolian heartland, swept traditional parties tainted by graft and mismanagement from power in 2002. It was a crushing defeat from which they have yet to recover.
CHP supporters will clearly be hoping the departure of Baykal will signal the start over a revival. But Kilicdaroglu's leadership has yet to be tested.
Rooted in political Islam but embracing nationalists and centre-right elements as well, the pro-business AK Party has found favour with foreign investors and overseen a period of stellar economic growth in Turkey averaging 6 percent.
Who is Kilicdaroglu?
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, born in the eastern province of Tunceli in 1948, graduated from the Academy of Economics & Administrative Sciences in capital Ankara in 1971.
Throughout his long career as a bureaucrat, Kilicdaroglu worked as an account expert at the Turkish Finance Ministry, department head and deputy director general of the Directorate General of Revenues, director general of the social insurance institutions Bag-Kur and SSK, deputy undersecretary of the Turkish Labor Ministry, an academician at Ankara's Hacettepe University and board member of Is Bankasi.
In addition to numerous articles published in various newspapers and journals, Kilicdaroglu has also written three books.
In 2009 local elections in Turkey, Kilicdaroglu was CHP's candidate for Istanbul mayor. AK Party's candidate Kadir Topbas was re-elected to such post in the elections.
Currently a CHP deputy from Istanbul, Kilicdaroglu speaks moderate French and is married with three children.