This move is really smart because if there is any possible way for his Republican People’s Party (CHP) to be considered a social democratic party, it is to ensure that the Western world perceives it as such. Indeed, within the context of the Turkish political scene, the CHP entertains only a simple, cliché relationship to the said ideology. In the tradition of the CHP, it is clear that this party’s social democratic mentality does not go beyond a form of populism that stresses the total downtrodden state of the general public. But, today, due to a strong undercurrent within the party, it is getting all the more difficult for social democrats to find a place in the party for themselves.
This undercurrent is, of course, neo-nationalism. This ideology may be feeding on hostility towards the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-coup mentality of Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- but this does not portend to be a passing attitude. Because it is believed that the AKP government is waging a silent revolution and because it is impossible to beat this party through democratic means, a staunchly secular, pro-state vision of self-isolation that relies on anti-Western sentiments and completely shuns religiosity has emerged. Assuming that Turkey will remain integrated with the Western world in a democratic climate, it wouldn’t be wrong to assert that neo-nationalism represents a true alternative and is a postmodern form of Kemalism.
Naturally, neo-nationalists enjoy a sizable amount of power within the CHP, which was the party of Mustafa Kemal [Atatürk]. Thus, during the last party congress, İlhan Cihaner, who is involved in the Ergenekon investigation, was elected by the delegates to the party’s executive, although Kılıçdaroğlu had not put Cihaner’s name on his key list of nominations. Cihaner was nominated while Muhammet Çakmak, who represented the CHP’s “opening” to religious groups, was categorically written off.
In short, CHP delegates are still sensitive regarding secularism. However, this sensitivity is a sign of their proximity to a fuzzy, superficial form of Kemalism rather than to social democracy. Indeed, none of the “social democrats” in the party have been able to promote this ideology beyond secularism and scientific modernism. In this way, Kemalism in a general sense provides a common denominator between modernists and neo-nationalists within the CHP. This natural synthesis is likely to reinforce neo-nationalism over time as it is more consistent and more radical than loose modernism.
Aware of this, Kılıçdaroğlu prepared a key list of nominees who would reflect this balance at the party congress. The list, however, originally intended to have 80 names but swelled to include first 100 and then 110 names. This is because what was important was not who the leader included on the list but who he chose to rule out, and Kılıçdaroğlu opted to minimize risk. Thus, both Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership and the party’s ideology, which is united around a form of neo-nationalism that remains “soft” for the time being, were endorsed. Perhaps this will serve as an opportunity for those who expect change within the CHP to understand that this will not happen and to conduct a realistic analysis. The problem is not that the CHP does not feel the need to change. As a matter of fact, according to a survey by the MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center conducted in April, 53 percent of those who voted for the CHP believe there is a leadership problem within the party and 63 percent think there is a lack of opposition in the country. Moreover, 64.5 percent of CHP voters stressed the need for a new opposition party and opposition leader against the AKP. Ideologically speaking, 59.6 percent of CHP voters say their party is not a leftist or social democratic party and 63 percent state there is a need for such a party.
Given these figures, we may suggest that CHP voters are considerably close to social democracy and would support a change in the party in this direction. However, the critical question is what CHP voters make of the left or social democracy. Qualitative research into an answer to this question leaves us with nothing beyond secularism and modernism. Voters look to get rid of the AKP, but the CHP is unable to make this happen. They talk about an ideology that would bring success when properly practiced, but when we pull away the shell, we find only Kemalism underneath.
So those who expect the CHP to change will have to wait for at least 10 years to come. This change may be possible only in the post-AKP era and when the CHP realizes that it is no longer possible to return to the golden age of the republic.