These are the days of the reshuffling of cards, and the neglect of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition, to this end would be unbecoming. Turkey’s founding party, founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is currently in the midst of reckoning, however wobbly, to define a new path for itself to find ways for challenging its powerful adversary, the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The CHP’s ordinary congress, taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday, should go unnoted. Yes, there are not very high hopes tied to it; the notion is firm that it may be accompanied with the same, dull, familiar melodies; but the very nature of Turkey’s historic transformation process is far too strong to make it insignificant. The CHP is also far too critical to resist the social processes.
What makes this argument valid are the latest figures in the polls. Despite its very audible hiccups, political immobility, reactive patterns, old style reasoning, belated reactions and obsession with its dogmatist Kemalist past, the CHP still is firm between 20-25 percent in the voters’ scale.
It remains a strong political alternative, in the need for a better one, for the masses who, for this or that reason, seek an alternative to the AKP. That is the reason why many voters, from their own perspective, regard the current congress as a threshold to realize or reject the party as it will appear they want to vote for or not in the next elections. Many hope the congress will bring clarity to the issue. The party in the critical position as a main opposition force has been kept in limbo for far too long.
One may or not blame Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, its new leader, for this. Given the rigid nature of the CHP -- its unique stand as the organic part of the very Turkish state it founded in 1923 and the elite it has employed and fiercely engaged for its political survival -- Kılıçdaroğlu may have felt that he will have to tread very carefully to change its foundations.
Whether or not he was driven by this motive, he was not convincing at all as to what he aims to do with the party he took over. He was rightly and bitterly reminded by his archrival, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that in order to proceed further, he will have to confront the past where the CHP has been responsible for ruthless Jacobinism, elitism and systematic oppression of dissent -- no matter what it represented. He avoided it to his disadvantage. With this congress, that time may have come.
The CHP’s congress comes at a time when the ruling AKP openly resorts to political comfortism. For its leader, Erdoğan, a pursuit of consolidating his power overwhelms the urgent agenda of Turkey: a brand new “social contract,” a solution to the chronic Kurdish problem and a convincing solution to issues related to freedom of expression and assembly.
A majority it seems remains to be persuaded, where the government stands on issues of tolerance: whether any steps will be taken on freedom of faith and individual choices (Halki Seminary, Alevi “cemevi” problems and the blatant abuse of power regarding alcoholic drinks and licenses by the government, are affecting Turkey’s image as the country part of global freedom).
The fight for rights and freedoms in a larger context intensifies in Turkey. This is a pattern that will not fade without a conclusion -- good or bad. The fault and consequent loss of the CHP was that it simply failed to see the nature of the struggle in a larger context.
It has never chosen to be a party that defended the rights of the oppressed: be they women who were deprived of the right to wear headscarves, be they the Alevi who demanded recognition of cemevis as their shrines, be they Kurds who asked for the recognition of their identity and their right for self-rule, be they Romans or Circassians whose existence was denied for far too long, be they workers who lost many of their rights over a long period of time. The CHP served instead a republican nomenklatura that preferred “robot talk,” identifying itself much closer to the owners and servers of tutelage that it had helped to shape.
As it goes through yet another convention, the CHP is still a huge question mark. Kılıçdaroğlu had raised hopes with proposals on the Kurdish issue lately, but has not had much to say about the violence that shattered Diyarbakır recently. He flip-flops on the issue. He returns also to an ugly rhetoric, attacking the AKP with slang bordering on slander, a method that raises eyebrows for potential voters for his party.
On international policies, the CHP clearly lags behind, suffering from an obsession for the past. Its prominent figures that stand out on foreign policy issues take steps that are not convincing at all. Faruk Loğoğlu’s letter to 26 EU foreign ministers was not a winner for the party among the “European” comrades, as was his proposal to “talk to Assad.” The same for Umut Oran’s new proposals to visit Syria.
What is perhaps worst for the hopefuls in the party is that Kılıçdaroğlu opens and closes the congress without even touching on a party program. Not much new under the sun, then.