Last Thursday the party submitted a proposal to Parliament amending Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) Internal Service Code, which has served as the legal basis for coup perpetrators. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu recently announced that his party will sue former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt for releasing a military memorandum in 2007, dubbed the “April 27 e-memorandum,” saying army chiefs releasing such statements that target the government is a criminal offense. Yet, he seemed to have forgotten that his party was among those who welcomed the memorandum on the grounds that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government invited it itself.
Another thing that makes the CHP’s democratic maneuvers hard to understand is the party’s staunch opposition to a government-sponsored constitutional reform package that will be put to a referendum in September.
The 26-article package, among other things, paves the way before the trial of the perpetrators of the Sept. 12 military coup. The CHP is waging a “no” campaign against the reforms.
There is pressure from the CHP grass roots to support the government’s reforms, urging the party to make democratic moves in a bid to prove that it is against military tutelage and intervention in politics, said Emre Aköz, a sociologist, while noting that the CHP was not sincere about such moves.
“There are many in the CHP grass roots who think there is nothing wrong in supporting the reform package, so they wonder why the CHP is pursuing opposition against the package. There are many leftists among them, particularly around the age of 50, who were subjected to ill treatment by the junta regime in the aftermath of the Sept. 12 military coup of 1980. So they want to support the reforms, which pave the way for the trial of the perpetrators of the Sept. 12 coup. That’s why the CHP is putting forward proposals such as the amendment of Article 35 and lowering the election threshold, in a bid show that it, too. supports democratic values,” Aköz told Sunday’s Zaman.
Early this month, the CHP also submitted a proposal to Parliament demanding the lowering of Turkey’s election threshold from 10 percent to 7 percent.
In Aköz’s view, had the CHP been sincere about its opposition to military tutelage and coups, it would have supported the government’s reform package and not opposed it just because the reforms were prepared by the AK Party.
Along with the CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) also oppose the reforms, which many say is due to the fact that they were initiated by the AK Party government.
Mehmet Altan from the Star daily agrees and says that although the government’s reform package is a limited one, it expands freedoms, so the CHP has difficulty in explaining to the public its opposition to the reforms.
“As a political party which claims to be social democrat, the CHP is trying to eliminate the contradiction posed by its opposition to reforms and the trial of coup perpetrators, and its claim to be democratic,” Altan said.
He suggested that competition between the AK Party and the CHP for democratic reforms will be for Turkey’s benefit first and will gradually cleanse the political regime of antidemocratic practices.
The CHP has derived political gains from an alliance with the military so far, but this alliance has begun to be too heavy for the party to carry. So Kılıçddaroğlu, as the new leader of the party, is trying to save the CHP from this image as it is no longer possible for the party to carry on this alliance, said Ahmet Taşgetiren, a columnist from the Bugün daily.
Elected in May in the aftermath of the resignation of its long-time leader Deniz Baykal, Kılıçdaroğlu promised to bring change to the CHP and reconcile the party, which has been criticized for being statist and pro-status quo with the public.
Taşgetiren said Kılıçdaroğlu was disturbed about the CHP appearing to support the Sept. 12 military coup because the party is against the reform package and that this is why he has now taken action against the military playing a role in politics.
“The CHP failed to produce sound reasons to explain its opposition to the reforms. It became even more difficult for the party to rationalize its opposition to the reforms, particularly after the Constitutional Court refused to cancel the package after an appeal from the CHP earlier this month. Now the CHP is trying to get away from the image of a party favoring military tutelage on politics as this no longer sells,” explained Taşgetiren.
He also noted that as other political parties push for more radical reforms, the CHP will further rid itself of the remnants of the support for military tutelage.
“The CHP+army equation is no longer a burden for the CHP,” he added.