‘New CHP’ boosts hopes for democracy, freedoms, but observers hesitant

November 07, 2010, Sunday/ 14:12:00
In what seemed the greatest chaos in the history of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the party’s leader, “took control of” the main opposition party from former Secretary-General Önder Sav -- the long-time CHP head behind the scenes -- and vowed to endorse democracy and freedoms.

However, observers are concerned that “change” in the CHP may be difficult because they are worried that Sav will not give up the fight so easily.

According to sociologist Hikmet Aydın, internal and external dynamics have prompted the CHP to “transform” because the main opposition party could not manage such a transformation on its own. “It would be difficult and painful for the classic CHP to transform. Therefore, internal and external dynamics assumed the duty to transform the party,” he noted. For him, the power battle between Kılıçdaroğlu and Sav represents a fight between the new and the old CHP.

The old CHP refers to the pro-status quo party that is opposed to any steps toward change and improved democracy, while the new CHP refers to a dynamic, pro-change and pro-freedom party. While Sav represents the old CHP, Kılıçdaroğlu represents the new CHP.

All last week, the main opposition party was rattled following an order by Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya, who ordered the CHP to put its new bylaws into practice within two weeks. The new bylaws were intended to significantly reduce Sav’s role in the administration of the party.

The former secretary-general was unwilling to see his power curbed, so when Kılıçdaroğlu made a major change in the party administration as part of efforts to implement the new bylaws, Sav was infuriated and started to gather signatures from delegates for an extraordinary congress. Sav planned to use his power over CHP delegates to change the party leader at the congress. Neither Sav nor his close circle of friends are part of the new CHP administration.

Kılıçdaroğlu resisted Sav’s challenge and worked to eradicate his influence on the main opposition party.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s defiance of the powerful former secretary-general was met with both surprise and excitement among observers who believe Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to become the “real leader” of the CHP. For them, the new CHP Kılıçdaroğlu leads boosts hopes for a main opposition party that will contribute to Turkey’s transformation into a more developed and democratic country, but they are still hesitant.

Aydın cautioned that the “Kılıçdaroğlu wave” may be invalidated if he fails to attract voters in the 2011 general elections. “An extraordinary success may enable Kılıçdaroğlu to protect his seat. In the case of failure, however, Kılıçdaroğlu may lose his position as the party leader,” he noted.

The CHP secured only around 20 percent of the national vote in the general elections of 2007, while its biggest rival, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), received nearly 47 percent.

According to Necati Albay, a former deputy of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), Turkey may be witnessing the rise of a new leader -- Kılıçdaroğlu. For him, the chaos within the CHP may be the result of this rise. However, he is still not too hopeful that Kılıçdaroğlu will truly become a real leader.

The pessimism surrounding Kılıçdaroğlu stems from his earlier political U-turns. He made so many promises but easily broke them, leading to the public’s disappointment. Recently, he broke his pledge to contribute to the lifting of the ban on the use of the Muslim headscarf at universities, which annoyed many in Turkey.

For Savcı Sayan, a former member of the CHP Central Executive Board (MYK), the adventures of the CHP in democracy are directly linked to the attitude of the party’s leader. “The bylaw issue is indeed being exaggerated. What lies at the root of the problem is the manner of management in the party and a lack of training. A political party becomes either democratic or antidemocratic depending on the attitude of the party leader regardless of whether the party possesses old or new bylaws,” he stated.

The CHP approved its new bylaws at a congress in 2008, while it was being led by former party leader Deniz Baykal. However, the bylaws have remained unimplemented since then.

Tarhan Erdem, owner of the KONDA Research Group, approached the issue from a different angle, and said Turkish politics and democracy will improve only when political parties, the media and ordinary citizens learn to criticize a political party due to its anti-democratic nature.

A congress indispensible

A congress remains the single way for the CHP to pull itself out of the current crisis and receive a “confidence vote” from its supporters, according to many CHP deputies.

CHP İstanbul deputy Mehmet Sevigen said the main opposition looks “divided,” which is a very bad image for a political party. “The CHP will emerge more powerful from a congress. The ongoing dispute will end only after a congress,” he said, and added that Kılıçdaroğlu will become a stronger political leader after the congress. “He has gained power in legal terms, but he needs to become politically powerful, as well,” he added.

Atilla Kart, a CHP Konya deputy, expressed belief that the CHP leader will head for an extraordinary congress as soon as possible. “The right to call a congress is vested in the party leader. I believe he will call a congress as soon as possible,” he noted.However, observers are not sure that Kılıçdar-oğlu will remain as powerful as he is at the moment if he holds a congress because Sav still remains influential with CHP delegates. Most believe he may dethrone Kılıçdaroğlu if the CHP does hold a congress.

Baykal to wait until after 2011 elections for comeback

There are rumors that former CHP leader Deniz Baykal will attempt to return to party leadership after the 2011 elections. Baykal resigned in May after a video clip showing him in flagrante delicto with a party deputy was posted online. Baykal has tested the CHP waters for a comeback since then but has reportedly deferred his plans until after the next parliamentary elections, slated for June of next year.

Throughout last week, Baykal expressed support for CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu.

For some observers, Baykal is doing so in order to join forces against Sav. When the influence of Sav on CHP members and delegates is purged, then the former CHP leader will declare a “war” against Kılıçdaroğlu. For Baykal, Kılıçdaroğlu is an “easier” rival than Sav. If the CHP fails to challenge the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the elections, then Baykal’s comeback will be easier than Baykal imagines.

National
Other Titles