The main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) 16th party congress, overshadowed by legal debates over whether the party administration had managed to secure enough delegate support to convene the meeting or not, was held on Sunday.
The CHP, which has failed to settle its intra-party conflicts since the election of Kılıçdaroğlu in 2010, held its 16th extraordinary party congress at the Ankara Arena Sports Hall. It has been a matter of debate whether the current CHP leadership was going to be able to meet the quorum of delegates required to convene a congress as the anti-administration camp was putting pressure on party delegates to boycott the gathering. CHP Deputy Chairman Erdoğan Toprak said 850 of the 1,247 party delegates were in the sports hall, which means some 400 opponents did not show up at the congress. Another deputy chairman, Nihat Matkap, said 946 delegates attended the congress. Although the congress council then announced that there were 948 delegates, the opposition camp insisted that there were only 583 delegates at the congress, which is below the required quorum of 625 to be able to convene.
Tensions ran high during the congress as Kılıçdaroğlu began his speech. When one of Kılıçdaroğlu's staunch opponents, Mersin deputy İsa Gök, was trying to enter the hall, Kılıçdaroğlu's supporters booed him and prevented him from getting in the door.
Gök was then able to enter the congress hall and submitted a petition to the council of the congress, arguing that the quorum of delegates had not been met and that the congress could not be held. But his petition, which stated there were only 583 delegates in the congress hall -- below the required quorum of 625 -- was not taken into consideration. He then left the congress hall.
During his speech, Kılıçdaroğlu called for peace during the congress. “Nobody has the right or authority to disturb the peace of the congress. They [opponents] spoke of bylaw [change], well here it is. If you ask for elections [for leadership], we can also do that,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in reference to his opponents. “Wasting the CHP's energy is betraying the nation and the history of the CHP. We will never ever waste our power with inner conflicts,” he added as he called for intra-party unity.
He said the new party bylaws proposed by the party administration are the most democratic party bylaws ever made in the history of the CHP. “We are changing our party bylaws for democracy, for the people,” he said.
The CHP leader also took the opportunity to criticize the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), arguing that the current government in Turkey is not democratic but a “post-modern dictatorship.”
In a surprising move, the CHP leader left the congress hall after his speech and went to his home. He was expected to return to the hall to deliver a speech to conclude the congress after the voting session on the bylaw changes. The CHP delegates were still voting on the changes when Today's Zaman went to print.
Former CHP Secretary-General Mehmet Sevigen, a figure from the opposition front, told Today's Zaman that the fact Gök's petition was not processed makes the congress controversial in legal terms. “He [Gök] could not submit his petition, which said the congress could not convene with 583 delegates, for a long time and it was not processed. The number of delegates announced changes just like a stock exchange. One deputy chairman said it was 850, another said 839 and another said 946. But, the congress is being launched without officially the exact official figure of delegates being announced. You cannot hold a congress by filling the stands with people,” he said.
Sunday's congress is to be followed by another one on Monday. Both congresses are being held to make improvements to the party charter and to democratize it. However, the CHP's central administration and inner-party opposition are treating the upcoming congresses as opportunities to eliminate the other side, or to at least fend off the elimination of their side. Discussions on the amendments that await the charter are focusing on the bylaws that are crucial for party membership decisions.
Former CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal and former party Undersecretary Önder Sav, who was once close to Baykal, earlier had made their positions clear on Sunday's congress. Sav and his supporters have decided not to participate in the congress to prevent any changes proposed by the current administration, which is accused of reducing intra-party democracy. Like Sav, Baykal did not show up at the congress, although he had previously announced that he would be in attendance.
Sav and his supporters held a press conference in Ankara while voting on the new bylaws was still under way at the congress. “We will not let anyone to otherize us. The flood leaves but sand remains. Time will show who is sand and who is a flood,” Sav said.
Complaining about remarks that he and Baykal are “pro-status quo,” while new members of the party administration are “revolutionary,” Sav said he cannot accept this. He said they are the “hosts” at the CHP and the newcomers are the “guests.”
Former CHP deputy: Congress may be taken to judiciary
Responding to Today's Zaman's questions on the controversy over the number of delegates who attended Sunday's congress, former CHP Central Executive Board member Savcı Sayan said he believes that there is something illegal about the congress and that this issue will be taken to the judiciary by opponents. Stating that the number of delegates who signed the attendance book was 583 when the congress began, he said the Congress Council chairman, Adnan Keskin, did not announce this figure to the press. “The CHP leader was quickly invited to the stage to deliver his speech to gain time to pressure undecided delegates to sign the book. There is something illegal there,” he said.
Sayan also criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for leaving the congress after delivering his speech, noting that this is against CHP tradition. “No political party leader, not only that of the CHP but also those of others, leaves the congress hall in that way. I think Kılıçdaroğlu would not have done that either but the problem surrounding the number of delegates is behind this move. In its current situation, the party is heading towards separation and losing power. Anything can happen tomorrow [Monday] if the [second] congress convenes,” he added.
Monday's congress was called by Kılıçdaroğlu's opponents, who several months ago launched a campaign to hold an extraordinary congress and collected signatures from delegates. Opponents claim that the current intra-party system is undemocratic and gives too much power to the party leader.
They succeeded in soliciting enough signatures to discuss changing the bylaws and the leadership structure at an extraordinary congress.
But in a counter move from Kılıçdaroğlu that shocked his opponents he announced in January that he, too, would call a congress on Feb. 26, with his own agenda.