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February 15, 2013, Friday

The CHP’s İmralı ‘correction’

Last Tuesday, Deniz Baykal, the "ousted leader" of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), held a parliamentary group meeting of his party, closed to the public and the media, that was not an ordinary development. It was Muharrem İnce, the CHP's parliamentary group deputy chairman, known for his staunchly neo-nationalist stance, who informed CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of Baykal's intention to hold this meeting. Kılıçdaroğlu suggested that Baykal should hold the meeting on Thursday or Friday, not on Tuesday, saying, "I will be more available on those days," but Baykal did not accept the suggestion. "Parliamentary group meetings are held on Tuesdays. I will say, 'Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu couldn't come although wanted to,' and I will deliver my speech," Baykal said. And despite Kılıçdaroğlu's clear reluctance, Baykal addressed the CHP's parliamentary group on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Kılıçdaroğlu camp was worried about the possibility that Baykal might issue a memorandum against the party management. Some members of this group even suggested that they should prepare a counter-memorandum. But apparently, Kılıçdaroğlu didn't like this idea.

Eventually, Baykal delivered a two hour speech. The most striking part of his speech was this: "This constitution seeks to exchange something in return for something. The prime minister will become president, and in return, he will give away the national identity. Others will take this national identity and give him the presidency. This exchange is the conspiracy. We will continue to hear the lie that it will serve peace and democracy. And they are making preparations to intimidate the CHP."

A continuation of Birgül Ayman Güler's objections

This part of the speech aims to directly undermine the support the CHP has given to the government-launched İmralı process -- which involves brokering peace via negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently serving his life term on İmralı Island, off the coast of İstanbul. As a matter of fact, this is the continuation of CHP İzmir Deputy Birgül Ayman Güler's objection that "the Kurdish nation cannot be equal to the Turkish nation," which she voiced when Parliament was passing a bill to allow people to use their mother tongue in a court defense, a reform which could be considered part of the İmralı process. The CHP's neo-nationalist wing is extremely uneasy because their party is supporting the peace process, and, in a sense, they are at war with the process. It was Güler's remarks that triggered their revolt against Kılıçdaroğlu, and seeing that Kılıçdaroğlu couldn't stand against Güler, they sought Baykal's help to deal the final blow.

The following part of Baykal's speech directly targeted Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership. It was as follows:

"To defend Turkey, we must defend the CHP. The first phase of changing Turkey is to change the CHP. For this reason, to defend the CHP is to defend Turkey. Never forget this. Tremendous injustices were done to the CHP and the CHP is still facing injustices. We need to challenge this. There are attempts to portray the CHP as a chaotic group. In my opinion, this is an unrealistic, flawed assessment. This is not true. It is crystal clear what the CHP is. It has a program and it is a whole. They say there are neo-nationalists and progressives within the CHP. No, this is wrong. All members and deputies of the CHP are both neo-nationalist and progressive. One cannot become a CHP member or supporter without being a neo-nationalist."

Baykal argues that the CHP must challenge the injustices done to it, clearly implies that Kılıçdaroğlu is unable to do this and rejects Kılıçdaroğlu's "new CHP."

Many people wondered how Kılıçdaroğlu would respond to Baykal. But, he opted for not touching this subject during the speech he delivered just after Baykal spoke. One day later, he noted that he agrees with Baykal and welcomed his remarks.

But most importantly, people wondered how Baykal's coup might affect the support the CHP gave to the İmralı process. The signal came quickly. On CNNTürk's program 5N1K, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "Let us establish a parliamentary reconciliation and wise men commission. State officials should not conduct the talks; let the wise men do it instead. The state must do this legitimately."

Kılıçdaroğlu withdraws support for İmralı process

In other words, Kılıçdaroğlu withdrew his support for the İmralı process.

Senior party officials close to Baykal are rumored to have said, "Kılıçdaroğlu has come closer to our side." But I don't think Kılıçdaroğlu has a side. It is hard to maintain the leadership of a party by pursuing hesitant policies. Baykal's position is well known. It is neo-nationalist and pro-status quo. He is very clear about this. He does not have any complexes. He represents this view very well. When he was a party leader, he didn't care about coming to power and increasing the party's voters' base. Being a representative of the state and the bureaucracy in Parliament was sufficient for him.

The problem is not with Baykal, but with Kılıçdaroğlu. It was clear that the CHP was becoming increasingly anachronistic and it would never challenge the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Kılıçdaroğlu was seen as a source of hope for those who wanted to make the CHP a contemporary and liberal party. But from the beginning, Kılıçdaroğlu failed to pursue a clear-cut policy. He couldn't set the boundaries of his position. He failed to settle with the CHP's statist and bureaucratic past. Still, his support for the İmralı process was really valuable.

But because of his weak leadership, he allowed neo-nationalists to assert their dominance over the party. It seems he has surrendered. Perhaps Kılıçdaroğlu thinks like Baykal. But we cannot be sure of this because his views continually change. For instance, although he supported the İmralı process in the past, he opposes it today. The public demand for peace is very high in the country. Perhaps he originally supported the process because he couldn't resist this demand, or was thinking he could withdraw it at any time.

It is our hope that Kılıçdaroğlu has said this in order to quell Baykal's tempest. We hope he is not backpedaling. The truth will become apparent very quickly.

In sum, in all respects, it is clear that we have a serious problem with our main opposition party. For the smooth operation of the regime, we need to have not only a strong ruling party, but also a main opposition party that can challenge the ruling party and that keeps political competition alive. For the last ten years, the CHP has acted as the mouthpiece of the deep state and the tutelage in the face of AK Party-led reforms.  It suffered a big loss of prestige in the eyes of the public. However, not everything the AK Party did during these ten years was correct. If the CHP could have pushed the AK Party forward when it faltered on reforms, the CHP wouldn't be in this position today.

But I know this is only a wish. This is because the CHP perceives the reforms and change as a threat to itself. As a matter of fact, they are threats because it supports the status quo. For this reason, it is impossible for the CHP to change if it does not confront and settle accounts with its dark past. But the CHP, as the party of the elitist founders of the republic, has such a perverted tradition that a CHP that confronts its past will no longer be a CHP.

Previous articles of the columnist