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June 07, 2012, Thursday

CHP’s roadmap: new option for consensus

Can it be said that the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) at the most unexpected time came to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rescue?

Not that Turkey’s prime minister would reject an extended hand on the toughest issue he faces, but certainly what Kılıçdaroğlu, his main opponent, offered in terms of a “roadmap for a Kurdish solution” was a relief for him, long under the strain of an open wound called Uludere.

“Parliament -- it is where the solution must come from -- nowhere else,” Sezgin Tanrıkulu, vice chairman of the CHP and the architect behind the roadmap told me. He was confident that the CHP’s proposal has large public backing, but was less sure whether or not it would lead to a rapid process. Turkey’s political ground is very volatile at the moment and the behavioral patterns of the actors unpredictable.

Tanrıkulu is right. As a (Kurdish) lawyer, experienced in human rights over the years and in leftist politics, he knows more than many others the true nature of the problem and where it leads Turkey, if left unresolved. The CHP’s surprise move comes as timely as it can be: With the demise of military tutelage and the decline of the once mighty National Security Council (MGK), the issue was left on a trial-by-error basis by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), left alone despite its clear majority. Such an issue needs the backing of at least two, or better three, parties present in Parliament. If so, the solution will be in sight.

Yet, at this stage, many are asking themselves, why the CHP came with such a bewildering offer, and why now? There may be some explanations, which may make sense, if taken in a package.

First, it has been clear that the leadership of the party had been rather adrift, aimless and toothless for some time. It could only be visible through shouting matches against Erdoğan, but now it seems to have understood that it simply had run out of ammunition. Constructive and pro-active politics are on the agenda, temporarily or permanently.

Second, Kılıçdaroğlu may (have been persuaded to) feel that this is the right time to steer the main course of the party towards a “humane left,” as the big congress approaches (in mid July). I am told that 65 (of 81) of its conventions in the provinces are now complete, all ending in favor of Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership.

The “roadmap” therefore has an important meaning to test (the nerves of) his ultra-Kemalist adversaries so that a liquidation of the party’s remaining nomenklatura may leave the scene to a milder version of center-left and modernists.

Third, one may sound a bit far-fetched but judging by the possible consequences, may have some point: Observing Erdoğan’s “shift” towards a blend of the “nationalist conservative” block -- by appeasing the traditional voter base of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- the CHP might be acting on the intuition that the ground is shifting beneath it -- facing marginalization and hardship in a polarized atmosphere. It may have realized that it will have a very weak impact on the new constitution if it so continues, and therefore moves to squeeze Erdoğan to choose between itself (also the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) at a later stage) and the MHP.

The CHP’s “roadmap” is the most substantial step in politics since the Kurdish Opening and 2010 referendum. By reaching out, the party not only reverts 180 degrees from a hard-line, denialist Kurdish policy but also registers a bold public commitment to a solution. From now on, there is no way back to old, useless rhetoric, a party official told me.

What’s next? The MHP was quick to reject it altogether, so it leaves us with the three parties. Their total percentage is 70+ percent, and the number of deputies totals almost 500 (of 550). In a best case scenario based on the presumption that the commission(s) have three parties working together, this means a strong consensus. Even a joint AKP-CHP effort would be a great political achievement.

Given, of course, that both party leaders rebuild trust with each other, and the CHP can start acting as the intermediary between the AKP and the Kurdish political movement’s elected party -- the BDP.

But the holder of the key is still the same. It is Erdoğan, who stands there as the popular statesman who will have to make grand choices: either a continuous shift towards a massive nationalist-conservative block (no solution) or a return to the loosely defined, reform and democracy block, as it was in 2000-2005.

Soon enough we will be able to see whether all the moves related to the CHP proposal are all either tactical or strategic.

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