‘New CHP’ undergoes critical test on Kurdish issue

In democracies the opposition parties in particular are expected to be one of the »»

In democracies the opposition parties in particular are expected to be one of the main actors in checking and balancing the government’s policies. They are also usually regarded as candidates that could defeat the incumbent in the next, or in future, elections and come to power. In Turkey, however, the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923 when the Turkish Republic was established -- has mostly failed to play a role in improving democratic standards in Turkey, let alone in checking and balancing the government’s policies.

To be fair, there have been moments, though rare, when the CHP was successful in elections because it challenged the politically meddlesome military. It was during the 1973 national elections, two years after the military issued a memorandum against the government at the time, that the CHP -- under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit -- scored a landslide victory and came to power. The CHP owed its success then to successfully delivering a message of democracy to the electorates while rejecting the military’s role in politics.

The social democratic movement in Turkey was split after the 1980 military coup and the CHP lost its influence considerably. As it subsequently became stronger over the past decade in terms of the growing number of members, the CHP, under the 18-year leadership of Deniz Baykal, made a choice to act in accordance with the establishment -- the system of military tutelage -- instead of involving itself in real politics.

When former bureaucrat-turned-CHP deputy Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu assumed the party leadership in 2010, there were hopes that the CHP would make a real change and raise Turkey’s democratic standards. This hope faded quickly, however, as the CHP failed to adopt reformist policies. It was the ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party) which, in fact, put its stamp on Turkey’s transformation into a democratic society when it initiated military and civilian reforms.

However, since the June 12 elections last year, the AK Party, which is in its third term in power, has disappointed many liberals and conservatives alike because it failed to continue its reformist policies. On Turkey’s Kurdish and terrorism problems, for example, the AK Party has reverted to security-first policies while neglecting legal reforms. This is despite the fact that it was under the AK Party rule that Turkey, for the first time, initiated policies to deal with the Kurdish and terrorism problems through political means.

One of the possible reasons for the AK Party’s declined appetite for reforms could be the lack of a reformist mood among opposition parties, which otherwise would have had pushed the ruling party to continue with policies to improve democratic standards. There has for a long time been a political climate which lacks an adequate dialogue and spirit of compromise between Turkish political parties, while relations are strained between key institutions. This climate hampers the continuation of a reform process.

Against the backdrop of this negative climate, last week the CHP came up with an offer to solve the Kurdish and terrorism problems, which it stated could only be resolved through a national compromise, though not by the government alone. This move by the CHP shows that common sense has finally prevailed within this opposition party.

The CHP proposed the creation of a national compromise commission within Parliament which would also discuss critical issues such as disarming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as creating a group of “wise men.”

Kılıçdaroğlu, who recently stated that “thinking about new ideas is the task of the new CHP,” met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday to see if a national compromise could be established on the Kurdish and the terrorism problems. Senior AK Party officials welcomed the CHP’s move, saying that Turkey would benefit from a solution to these problems.

A national compromise that would be filled with measures such as a general amnesty as a means of disarming the PKK would take away the reasons for the terrorist organization to continue its armed campaign and pave the way for a solution to the Kurdish question through political means.

I applaud the new CHP for its courageous move to help find a solution to the Kurdish problem.



Columnist: LALE KEMAL