The opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have been working extensively to increase their votes in areas outside of Turkey’s coastal strips -- regions they have mostly been confined to according to the results of the July 22, 2007 general elections and the March 29, 2009 municipal elections.
The CHP is trying to revive its presence -- currently almost non-existent -- in the country’s Kurdish-dominated East and Southeast, while the MHP is looking for ways to regain its voter support in the central provinces. On April 1, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started his campaign to reach out to the East and Southeast, where the CHP’s share of votes was around 2 percent during the term of the party’s former leader, Deniz Baykal.
Kılıçdaroğlu announced his party’s plans in a report titled, “Strategic Targets for Economic Development in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia.” He also broke Baykal’s tradition of not holding election rallies in the East and Southeast. His last rally was in the eastern province of Muş, where he was the target of eggs thrown by demonstrators. Nevertheless, he will continue his rallies in the East.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been criticized for not using the phase “the Kurdish Question,” a term he used to utter often in his days as deputy chairman of his party’s parliamentary group, since he was elected as the party leader, has been making a point to appeal to the Kurdish community. The CHP’s report, prepared by a group of academics led by Sociology Professor Sencer Ayata, a deputy chairman of the CHP, sets a 9 percent target for growth.
$116 billion for development
The CHP promises to increase per capita income in the region -- at $5,000 per year -- to $23,5000 by 2023. The combined share of these two regions in the country’s overall income stands at about 10 percent. The CHP promises to increase this to 15 percent by 2023. The plan is to increase total public investment in the two regions to $5.3 billion in 2015, $12.8 billion in 2020 and $20.7 billion in 2023. A total of $116.1 billion of public investment will be made in this region, creating jobs for 1.9 million people.
The CHP also promises to bring the long-standing Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) -- a sustainable development project that was launched in the late ‘80s and has not been completed -- to completion, start Organized Animal Farming Zones in the region and inject investments in fields that the private sector doesn’t find interesting.
Starting mining activities in Elazığ, Malatya, Diyarbakır, Erzincan, Erzurum and Bitlis, opening petrochemical facilities in Batman and Diyarbakır and nationalizing sugar factories in Malatya, Elazığ, Erzincan, Muş, Erzurum, Erciş, Ağrı and Kars that have been privatized over the past decade are also among the CHP’s promises.
The CHP says it will turn Gaziantep, Diyarbakır and Van into important centers in the Middle East, and build a fast train railway linking Ankara to Diyarbakır, as well as clean out the mines in the region and distribute the land to locals. The CHP also promises projects to bring back migrants who were forced out of or left their home villages and towns because of terrorism.
CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu hasn’t fully endorsed the idea of setting up a new parliamentary commission to investigate the disappearances and summary executions of Kurds in the East and Southeast in the ‘90s by illegal formations within the gendarmerie’s anti-terror units, but it is known that he is supportive about the idea according to recent statements by CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu.
Kılıçdaroğlu has said he fully supports adopting a new constitution for Turkey, but has not openly declared his stance on an idea put forth by CHP Deputy Chairman Süheyl Batum, who said that the first three articles -- currently unamendable -- of the Constitution could be removed. Pundits, however, say the CHP supporting the idea of a more democratic constitution marks a significant improvement for the party.
MHP focuses on former strongholds
The MHP surpassed Turkey’s election threshold of 10 percent and entered Parliament in the July 2007 elections, but lost most of its strongholds in Central Anatolia to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Shortly after this, in the March 2009 municipal elections, the MHP lost a good deal of its municipalities in these cities also to the AK Party. The MHP administration is now focusing on these provinces where it formerly had good standing.
The MHP, which has traditionally nominated only two or three candidates in the East and the Southeast, nominated parliamentary candidates in all of the provinces. In cities such as Tunceli and Çorum, where there are many Alevis, the nominees were also Alevis.
The MHP is also unnerved about the possibility of losing some of the votes that it garnered in the 2007 election from voters that traditionally supported the CHP, particularly in the region of Thrace, to that party. It has included various center-right politicians coming from the Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP) on its candidate lists to be able to appeal to center-right voters.
The MHP has nominated politicians with center-right backgrounds, such as Sümer Oral, Bahattin Şeker and Celal Adan, rather than nationalist politicians that have long-been affiliated with the MHP. Meral Akşener and Cihan Paçacı, who were added to the party earlier, also remain as candidates. Former ministers Murat Başesgioğlu and Zekai Özcan, who resigned from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), are also among MHP candidates. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has been working to varnish the party’s image as a center right party and overcome the perception that the MHP are staunch Turkish nationalists whose ideals border on racism. There have also been attempts to make Ülkü Ocakları (Idealist Hearths), which are the backbone of MHP’s youth organizations, more center-right and modern. Gray wolves, or the members of these organizations, are no longer allowed to use Islamist- or Turanist-sounding slogans. İstanbul Sunday’s Zaman