The “old guard” of the already worn out party are again up in arms, calling for his resignation, while others are gathering signatures to convene an extraordinary congress. The attempts to convene a congress are being led by the party’s former leader, Deniz Baykal, and the secretary general, Önder Sav.
Is the “inner opposition” right? If you lend an ear to Baykal, the performance of his successor was disastrous. He paints a picture of “serious losses” in terms of votes and some bastions (such as Antalya and Eskişehir). He talks about a loss of confidence in the party, arguing that the CHP voters fell into “hesitation.” What went wrong? Baykal’s main argument seems to be based on a change in policies pertaining to the Kurdish question. Under the slogan of “new CHP,” the more liberal approach to the Kurdish issue was based on the hope that Kurdish votes in the western provinces would go to the party, but they did not, Baykal notes. He maintains that many voters had confidence in the CHP’s previous stance and respected it.
Others are more outspoken. The harsh critique stems from the viewpoint that the CHP made a huge mistake in abandoning the “secular system is in danger” discourse, which created an impression that the party was also letting go of its basic “six arrows” principles, namely the rigid Kemalist guidelines, dating back to the early 1920’s.Kılıçdaroğlu seems confident. He argues that the party did not lose, but on the contrary increased its number of voters. He is right in that sense: The party has increased its share in 67 of 81 provinces, albeit in small proportions.
But it does not matter. Although from a distance the CHP appears to be neither a winner nor a loser, Kılıçdaroğlu’s difficult challenge will be to confront the party administration, which believed the party would win at least 30 percent of the vote. His mistake was in constantly raising the bar, raising expectations for the final results every time he did so. (Compare it to the self-confident realism of his adversary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who openly said -- twice or three times -- that he expected for his party to have between 315 and 330 seats.) Exaggerations and lies now haunt Kılıçdaroğlu, who -- my sources say -- ignored requests that he be fed with realistic public surveys to know where he stands. Instead, he chose to rely on a pollster who chose to appease him rather than give him real data.In compiling the candidate lists, he made a significant mistake. Instea d of asserting his leadership over reform-minded people, he took steps backwards by including old-time Kemalists, blending them in with names linked undeniably to the center-right (of the old political class) and those accused in the Ergenekon trials. It now seems clear that this strategy has backfired in key strongholds like Eskişehir and had a negative impact on the votes elsewhere. This, along with his oratorical style, which was reminiscent of the old figures like Süleyman Demirel, his speeches patronizing and delivered in a “talking-to-a-child”-like tone, was not convincing for the people, whose hopes in him last year had surpassed the 30 percent barrier.
Nevertheless, Kılıçdaroğlu is determined to fight on. He seems aware that his party came closer to the point of no return. The party’s election history as a loser in the past six decades should be carefully examined. Something is rotten in the CHP, and the ‘new’, the element that was the winner in the past three crucial elections, pushes the party to grand, existential decisions.
The heart of the matter is the choice between Kemalism (the true identity of the party, much more fitting than “center-left,” let alone “social democrat”) and a new type of universal social democracy, which will have to be translated and adopted to the reality of the “new Turkey.” True, CHP rallies this time echoed some of the latter -- focusing on real issues instead of ideological ones, and warming up to Kurds etc. –- and they are to be commended. But, overall, Kılıçdaroğlu fell short of building a campaign on the rights and freedoms, of embracing those who feel suppressed and demand a share of equality and dignity, which AK Party had given to some others. But even small portions of change in the language were enough to create a storm. This is normal. The party cannot go on pretending to be progressive and pro-status quo. It will have to choose. The more Kılıçdaroğlu pushes it into the direction of change and renewal the more there will be risks of a historic split. (There are already enough of his dissenters in the new parliament to drop out of the CHP and form a new group.) As the song goes, “que sera sera.” Kılıçdaroğlu may not have won, but he did not personally lose the elections. He stands as the tiny ray of hope in Turkey’s fragile opposition landscape and will need all the support he can get to develop an alternative base for politics -- in the name of democracy and credibility.