One of the congresses, scheduled for Feb. 26, was called by the central administration to discuss the charter and to weaken the inner-party opposition. However, the anti-administration camp is putting pressure on party delegates to boycott the congress, meaning it might not meet the quorum of delegates required for a congress to convene. Still, even if the first congress doesn't take place, this will not exactly mean victory for the inner-party opposition, as the opposition is also fractured by schism. The next congress, which is convening in response to the opposition's demand, will be held on Feb. 27.
Former CHP Secretary-General Mehmet Sevigen, who is on the opposition front, told Today's Zaman, “We have about 200 delegates who voted for the extraordinary conventions to convene, and we have decided not to attend either of the two congresses.” The right-hand man of former CHP leader Deniz Baykal, Sevigen said he felt it would be best for the CHP if neither of the congresses convened.
What makes the tension run high ahead of the two congresses is the not so unjustified concern that the congresses might turn into a battleground to eliminate the opposing camp. The CHP's next scheduled regular congress slated for later this year would have started a serious change of blood as provincial and district congresses starting in March would radically change the party's make-up of delegates. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was hoping to postpone a congress to discuss the party's charter until after the regular congress.
This is the reason why former CHP leader Baykal and former CHP Secretary-General Önder Sav swiftly organized their supporters to demand an extraordinary congress on the charter -- to prevent Kılıçdaroğlu from bringing in fresh blood for his leadership.
The inner-party opposition was hoping that they could eliminate pro-Kılıçdaroğlu members in provincial and district congresses. They were able to garner enough signatures to convene a charter congress only in January, although they have been attempting to since fall 2011.
Former CHP leader Baykal, who did support the call for an extraordinary convention, but also did not want to appear to be close to Sav, has kept the door open for reaching a compromise with Kılıçdaroğlu. When his request to chair the council of the congress was turned down, Baykal decided not to join the Feb. 26 congress, but he is also not participating in the Feb. 27 congress, indicating that he hasn’t given up the possibility of reconciliation with the central administration. Kılıçdaroğlu might respond to Baykal’s willingness to sit down and talk if he senses that there is a possibility of failing to convene the Feb. 26 congress due to a lack of delegates. The failure of the party congress to convene would indicate major distrust on the part of the delegates toward the party administration. The intrigue here is that whether the Feb. 27 congress will convene also depends on whether Baykal and Sav reach a common agreement.
Sevigen, says if both congresses fail to convene, this could bring about a search for reaching an agreement. “We don’t want to become a side in this inner conflict taking place at a time when Turkey is going through such a difficult period because both Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu and Mr. Sav are doing the wrong thing. We don’t want to be the part of a pointless fight inside the party. Nobody listens to each other. Under these circumstances, we don’t attach much importance to the planned congress. If both congresses get canceled, this will bring dialogue and reconciliation, it will bring mutual respect and all camps will start listening to the other side.”
Hakkı Süha Okay, a former CHP deputy chairman, who is known as being closer to the pro-Sav camp, told Today’s Zaman: “The most important difference in opinion between the administration and our friends who gathered signatures for a convention is how we see inner-party democracy. This is the biggest difference between the Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 congresses. The administration announced that there will be radical changes made to the charter, but the draft charter also clearly shows that the changes will not go into effect immediately. The charter explicitly says that the changes will be good at the first leadership congress, which means that inner-party democracy will be suspended until 2014. It the charter is adopted as is, there will be no point to either of the congresses because this is not something our friends who want changes to the charter can accept.”
“The delegates will decide whether the congresses will convene,” he said. At least 625 delegates should participate in the congress to ensure that it convenes. “I can’t really say anything about what will happen if both congresses get canceled, or whether that would foster searches for reconciliation.”
Current CHP Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin said the Feb. 26 congress will be a festive occasion that will benefit the party and the party’s voter base. “About 50 of the bylaws regarding the organizational principles of the party will be changed. These changes will be enough to satisfy our friends who called for the Feb. 27 congress.”
Tekin dismissed the possibility that the Feb. 26 congress might be called off due to a lack of delegate participation. “I think that possibility is zero. Both the Feb. 26 and 27 congresses will convene, both will be conducted in an atmosphere of joy, and our new charter will be adopted.” He also said claims from the current administration’s opponents that the changes will not go to effect until 2014 were misleading. “The new charter will go into force on March 1,” he said.
Speaking at a meeting of the CHP’s 89-person Charter Preparation Commission on Friday, CHP Deputy Chairman Nihat Matkap agreed with Gürsel and said he didn’t think it possible that the extraordinary congress on Feb. 26 might be called off due to low participation: “If the CHP can’t even convene its own congress, then why should it contend to run Turkey? How would you explain if some delegates boycott the congress? Would this contribute to the unity of the party in any way? I doubt that such a thing will happen.”