Annual, as well as less regular, conventions of major political parties do not normally attract every voter’s attention. Those amongst our readers who ever had had the opportunity (or shall I rather say “task”) to listen to dozens of regional party chairmen debating article after article of policy proposals originating from party headquarters would agree keeping track of -- and staying ahead of -- hundreds of pages of fine print is a cumbersome undertaking, to say the least.
Nevertheless, all of this reading, debating and voting upon is part and parcel of a functioning democracy although observers including myself must admit that newcomers, and in particular women or younger party members, face an uphill battle before being allowed to represent a local party organization or constituency during congress.
What the electorate wants to know is who will lead the party once the convention’s speeches dust has settled and, of course, whether a new or at least modified manifesto has been adopted.
Substance is what matters to those of us who are not involved in any political party’s day-to-day affairs and this is true with regards to this week’s congress of Turkey’s major opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). So, have we perhaps witnessed a content-wise related rebirth of the CHP? Has anything changed, really?
If the author of these lines is a “neutral” observer of Turkish politics the only noteworthy comment would be that after a few mishaps during the counting of votes for party management members, nothing sensationally new emerged once delegates had returned to their regional party associations. As I am somewhat more involved in the sense of having a great interest in the welfare of this country, neutral is not good enough, hence: cards on the table!
If the CHP wishes to become a real alternative to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) -- and anyone who has this interest in the well-being of the country will agree that good governance in the long run needs a strong, viable alternative in the form of an opposition party waiting in the corners of Parliament to get elected once the electorate decides so -- it must drastically change its approach towards firstly, drafting new policies and secondly, sheding the cocoon of being seen as the defender of the past status quo which only benefited a few self-styled elites without paying respect to ordinary citizens who form, of course, that vast majority of the Turkish people.
What I never really understood about the CHP is why the origins of a supposedly social democratic movement were never defending the legitimate interests of the masses or had not been asking for more rights for Turkey’s working classes. It became a symbol of an authoritarian state run by few people in the name of defending a pre-fabricated, not an organic society.
Bygones are bygones, back to the future. Can the CHP become an electable alternative? I daresay yes, if it would turn itself into a “real” social democratic party. Let me give you examples.
Gender equality. Citizenship. Civil society allowing NGOs to prosper. Improving workers’ rights and conditions. Overhauling the education system. Preparing Turkey’s youth for an interconnected world. Fully supporting Turkey’s EU vocation and refraining from interpreting the EU pre-accession funding as new form of EU imperialism. Developing a new set of foreign policies. Re-discovering international solidarity as a hallmark of socialist and social democratic political parties. Not resorting to state-sponsored capitalism but embracing a social version of a functioning market economy.
I am looking forward to the day when I can report just that in an upcoming column, not because I have become a supporter of Turkey’s political opposition but because the country urgently needs one! Strong opposition makes the government even better and, at the same time, helps the opposition to be a more viable alternative too.
The real trouble for the CHP is that most items from the list above have already implemented by Erdoğan’s AK Party, but an outspoken, social democrat variation would help to establish even more what most stable democracies simply depend on: Two mainstream parties; one more conservative up to a certain extent, and one more social democrat up to a certain extent. “People’s Parties” may sound like a boring formula but if stable democracy paired with economic prosperity is the outcome, I rather live with a “boring” political scenario.