The benefits of this initiative to the government are obvious. Virtually no progress has been made to tackle the Kurdish issue over the last two years. For the government, there is the risk of losing nationalist voters if it introduces reforms to deal with this problem. And the fight against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) is a minefield with many opportunities to ensnare the government, as the Uludere tragedy -- in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed in military air strikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district, due to false intelligence -- implies.
A new constitution may provide the government with a way out of this maze, but it must be drafted unhurriedly. This means that the period ahead of us is very fragile for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The solution the prime minister could find was to create a polarization over cultural values in order to pass the time with minimal collateral damage. To this end he brought abortion and other recent issues onto the agenda.
However, Islamic groups can adapt to today’s modernism more quickly than the prime minister thinks, and several hybrid lifestyles that bridge a multitude of cultural identities emerge. Therefore, issues such as abortion lack their former capability to distinguish between secular and religious identities. For instance, the majority of religious people are against abortion, but their minds are positively confused when it comes to banning it. In other words, these issues cannot provide a solution to the Kurdish issue and the government is performing most poorly at the moment.
Political traditions in Turkey do not encourage the opposition to support the government in such cases. We can even say the most likely scenario for the opposition is to wait for the ruling party to sink in popularity and enjoy it. In this regard, it is quite surprising to see the CHP kick off a methodological process concerning the Kurdish issue. Indeed, when Prime Minister Erdoğan sent letters to all political parties to launch a similar process in 2009, he received a resounding “no,” not only from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) but also from the CHP. Even at the time, CHP leader Deniz Baykal had successfully undermined the process, with help from media outlets, by stipulating that the meeting had to be held in front of cameras. Therefore, the reason why the CHP today has adopted a completely different approach to the issue can be explained partially by its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s efforts to consolidate his party.
Since he took the helm of the party, Kılıçdaroğlu has trimmed the influence of various groups within it, legitimizing and reinforcing his leadership. This final move may make secularist and pro-coup factions inside the party more passive. Given the fact that he had purged the party of certain figures that relied on intra-party politics revolving around factions, we may assume that Kılıçdaroğlu will leave his mark on the CHP. In this context, his move regarding the Kurdish issue is very pragmatic as it signifies a real policy and leadership change while at the same time rendering the intra-party opposition’s efforts meaningless.
Yet, the merits of this move are not restricted to intra-party politics. Indeed, this move has two clear gains: First, with this move, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some liberal and democratic voters who had previously supported the AKP begin to affiliate with the CHP. Second, the MHP will increasingly feel pressure to discuss the Kurdish issue in the coming days and if this party insists on refusing, the voters who swing between the MHP and the CHP will possibly shift toward the CHP. In the end, the quest for a methodological solution will mostly benefit the CHP. On the other hand, if the AKP acts erroneously and has difficulty in managing this process, or if it backpedals, this will create perceptions of an ideological convergence between the AKP and the MHP, which will place the CHP at the “center.”
All of these things aside, there are also Turkey’s sociological realities. The only party that is capable of solving the Kurdish issue and maintaining the resulting solution is the AKP. So if this process goes on without too many problems, it won’t be surprising to see a two-party balance established in Turkey’s democratic system. This will result in the marginalization of the MHP and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Furthermore, a “new CHP” may emerge and the AKP may secure its hold on power for some time to come. Moreover, as this experience also makes its impact on other processes, including particularly the constitution drafting process, it will herald a significant boost to democratization.