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September 30, 2012, Sunday

CHP lost in blind man’s buff

It would be unrealistic to assume that the congress of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the weekend will not have any consequences on the way in which the bloody Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) conflict will be dealt with and how to approach the Kurdish problem.

These issues have come to the fore as the greatest challenge before Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the closure case against his party three years ago.

While the closure case was about the limitations on post-Islamist movements, however popular they may be, the PKK and Kurdish issues challenge Erdoğan's very limitations as a leader, who has managed to overcome obstacle after obstacle in many other issues by profound tactical skills, sheer luck, or both.

Fourteen months after the last national elections, which brought a huge victory for the AKP, Erdoğan initiated an eyebrow raising, flip-flopping, anger-guided terrorism policy that appeased hardliners from all flanks of politics, but he seems to have realized that the gate to the path of negotiations must be left open. We are now once more witnessing steps just at the threshold.

He has three choices as the bloodbath adds to the national trauma: no negotiations and no reforms, reforms but no negotiations, or negotiations and reforms. Option number one would rattle the very foundations of his party (where Kurdish delegates and voters show growing unease). So, we shall see soon enough what his preferred format will be.

If he chooses a path towards negotiations, which is a subject of rational debate here in this paper, in particular with strong counter-arguments by Emre Uslu, the destination is already clear: Instead of another Oslo-type of closed-door, third-party facilitated meeting, they may be conducted with the jailed Abdullah Öcalan, for whom the considerable support of Turkey's Kurds does now show any sign of waning.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a political wing of the PKK, is already signaling a desire for the restart of talks. Aysel Tuğluk, a BDP deputy who was close the Oslo talks, assured in an interview with the Taraf daily that there will be no more “road accidents” (acts of violence and terrorism) because “all the parts have learned their lessons.” There is an issue of mutual trust, but Tuğluk says “the defining component is Öcalan” because the armed units of the PKK will not defy him.

Is Öcalan ready? It would seem so. Breaking his long, self-imposed silence, he has recently sent messages through his brother, who was the first to visit him in months. “Nobody can solve this, but I can; it is a difficult problem, but if the state wants it, it can be solved. I take full responsibility; I should be the only counterpart and I guarantee results,” he told his brother. He also sent a message to the PKK's armed command that it should be realistic and that as there may be more attempts at sabotage from both sides, caution is needed.

The format, then, could be expected to take the form of meetings on İmralı island, where Öcalan is jailed, as its focal base, to be completed with other meetings in Europe and, later, with the PKK “commanders” in Iraq. Nobody should be surprised, either, if Massoud and Nechirvan Barzani act as secondary facilitators of the process (and this would be necessary to achieve results).

It has been repeated in this column that Erdoğan, as the key political figure, has the power, ability and support to make any decision in this matter. He is not part of the problem in the sense that he has not remained rigid throughout the years. Aware of the challenge, he has acted pragmatically, though he has been victim to his angry side lately.

His problem is the main opposition. Unable to match Erdoğan's practical wisdom and mental mobility, the latest developments have exposed the miserable management skills of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Zigzagging more than ever before, he has managed to leave all outside observers in profound confusion as to what he actually wants and where he wants his party to stand should any talks restart.

After a week of mind-boggling political slalom, Kılıçdaroğlu is on the verge of turning his party into the laughing stock of both domestic and international arenas. This has to do, of course, with his 180-degree contradictory statements and his inability to control and coordinate the opposing, struggling flanks within his organization. He uses up his energy just minimizing the damage.

Months ago, he was for a 10-point proposal to work with the AKP, which included the possibility of opening a dialogue with the PKK, and met with general applause for it. Then, he was staunchly against “any Oslo process.” After a while, he said yes to negotiating with PKK, “only if it will help in getting the PKK to lay down its arms.” Where does the CHP stand? Nobody knows.

The more Erdoğan pushes for a solution, the more cornered the CHP will be. Kılıçdaroğlu seems to think that his tactical maneuvering will weaken the AKP, but it does not. His nearsightedness also paralyses him in the sense that if he had told Erdoğan “yes, we support peace, let us move forward, either in Parliament or with negotiations,” he would have started cutting the ties between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), thus undermining Erdoğan's plans to move to the ultra-right. Once more, it has become clear that the mismanaged CHP is the obstacle -- more so than any other political actor -- before democratization.

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