Turkey opposition rudderless after Erdogan triumph

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Ankara (AFP) - President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan's election victory this month has left Turkey's opposition party riven by a revolt over its future with little prospect of a radical change in strategy.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) proudly boasts its heritage as the party of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk but has shown little of the historic leader's vision in recent years.

Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won nine victories in elections and referenda in more than a decade dominating Turkish politics, leaving the CHP trailing in their wake.

The outgoing premier's victory in presidential elections on August 10 has sent shockwaves through the CHP, which presents itself as the protector of Ataturk's secular values against the Islamic-rooted AKP.

Criticism of the CHP leadership from within the party has forced its top brass to call an extraordinary congress on September 5-6 to decide what to do next.

It has little time to make up its mind with Turkey already bracing for its next political battle -- legislative elections in June next year.

The AKP meanwhile has already decided that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will become prime minister and party leader when Erdogan takes the presidency on August 28.

Prominent CHP deputy Emine Ulker Tarhan has declared war on the party leadership, calling for its president Kemal Kilicdaroglu to resign and advocating a lurch to the left.

"The CHP tried to be a party like the others and failed," she said. "The party must find a new path or carry on lying to itself."

- Leadership challenge -

The dispute originates less from the loss to Erdogan itself as from the party's hotly contested choice of presidential candidate.

Rather than choosing one of their own, the CHP opted for the former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who like Erdogan is a pious Muslim.

Ihsanoglu's campaign failed to inspire staunchly secular voters, many of whom stayed at home, and Erdogan won the election without the need for a second round.

One prominent CHP official, Muharrem Ince, has already announced he will challenge for the party leadership, saying the CHP does not represent the aspirations of Turkish voters and calling Kilicdaroglu a dictator.

Others could follow, with media speculation focused on the relatively youthful and telegenic head of the Turkish bar association, Metin Feyzioglu.

Kilicdaroglu brusquely brushed off any responsibility for Ihsanoglu's defeat, blaming instead CHP supporters who had not bothered to cast their ballots.

"The holidaymakers did not vote," he said.

He later accepted, under huge pressure, to hold next month's extraordinary congress, which promises to be a stormy affair.

"All those who criticised me demanded a congress... this is what we are going to get," he said. "And everyone will respect party discipline after this congress."

A former tax inspector, the CHP chief is not known for his charisma. But his image as "Mr Clean" was a source of optimism when in 2010 he succeeded Deniz Baykal who had held the post since 1992 and was finally brought down by a sex tape scandal.

- 'We will always lose' -

Kilicdaroglu came out fighting when a corruption scandal hit Erdogan and his inner circle in 2013, attacking the premier as a "thief".

But neither this onslaught -- nor an attempt to steer the party towards the centre -- could do anything to prevent defeat.

Another prominent figure to have come out against Kilicdaroglu is Kemal Dervis, the hugely respected former economy minister and World Bank economist.

In spite of increased pressure, many believe Kilicdaroglu will keep control of the party.

"He will even profit from the congress to purge dissidents," said Deniz Zeyrek, Ankara bureau chief of the Hurriyet newspaper.

But some CHP members fear the party will be in no position challenge to Erdogan, regardless of who is in charge.

"The way things are now, without true reform, the CHP will always lose even if there are 100 elections," said CHP deputy Turgay Develi.

"The CHP no longer knows how to win."

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