Winds of change in CHP no more than a light breeze
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the newly elected leader of the Republican People's Party, was welcomed by the enthusiastic crowd at the congress hall on Saturday.
However, the change in leadership has not brought along the expected transformation in the party's main groups and discourse. The congress strengthened Secretary-General Önder Sav's “shadow leadership,” and there are already profound rifts stemming from the appointments made to the Party Council.
In his speech on Saturday, the CHP's new leader, Kılıçdaroğlu, supported defendants in the trial of Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization whose suspected members are charged with attempting to overthrow the government -- saying his party planned to abolish specially authorized courts when it comes to power. He also opposed the government's reform package and only mentioned democratization in one sentence. The emphasis on secularism, a dominant tone in Baykal's speeches, was replaced with the economy. The only promise Kılıçdaroğlu made was to lower Turkey's 10 percent election threshold.
Kılıçdaroğlu was elected as the party's new chairman with 1,189 votes (all of the valid votes cast) from 1,270 delegates. The first people to congratulate Kılıçdaroğlu were Baykal and President Abdullah Gül. Sav, a significant figure of the Baykal era, accompanied Kılıçdaroğlu at the congress. Revised party bylaws were suspended in the congress in line with Sav's request.
The CHP's new bylaws, passed in 2008 but still not in force, were suspended at the snap of a finger with a proposal from 77 provincial branch leaders. This effectively shelves changes that would have limited Sav's powers as the secretary-general. Sav has managed to maintain his presence as the party's powerful second-in-command. The election of Party Council members has turned into a war inside the CHP between Sav's supporters and those who want change.
Sav pushed for block lists -- lists that can either be approved or rejected as a whole by party delegates without allowing any changes -- to be used in the Party Council election.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s promises failed to live up to expectations. He promised improvements for the retired, the reintroduction of family social insurance, abolished in 1971, the abolishment of specially authorized courts and the end of the use of subcontractors to supply manpower in public projects as well as lowering the 10 percent election barrier. This last promise was the only new one for the CHP. However, he did not mention by how much the barrier would be lowered. The pictures of Cumhuriyet Ankara representative Mustafa Balbay, journalist Tuncay Özkan and Başkent University Rector Mehmet Haberal -- all jailed suspects in the Ergenekon trial -- were shown on a big screen inside the congress hall, hinting that the CHP’s future policies regarding this trial will not be any different from the Baykal era.
Kılıçdaroğlu made no mention of the Kurdish question, but he did say they would offer loans with no interest payments for would-be investors in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region of Turkey. However, it is a known fact that such incentives -- many of which are currently in application -- do not solve the problem or draw investors. Kılıçdaroğlu also promised that land mine-infested plots of land would be cleared and nationalized for public use. Regarding foreign policy, he said that they would not yield to the European Union’s double standards, hinting that his approach to the EU is not going to be very different from that of Baykal.
A major difference from Baykal was the lack of any mention of secularism in his speech. As he spoke, the excitement in the congress hall died down. He simplified the Kurdish question to economic problems. He also spoke about the alleged sex tape that brought down Baykal, saying the CHP owed it to Baykal to find the perpetrators of that conspiracy.
Support from Ecevit
An important development was the support of Rahşan Ecevit, a co-founder of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the widow of former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, for the congress. Ecevit recently left the DSP and founded the Democratic Left People’s Party (DSHP); however, she came to the congress on Saturday expressing support for Kılıçdaroğlu. She said she believed in him in a statement she made on Saturday. Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu put on the same style of cap that Bülent Ecevit always wore during the congress.
Another memorable event was that the CHP’s provincial branch leaders visited Ecevit’s grave ahead of the congress. DSP leader Masum Tüker criticized Rahşan Ecevit, saying the true Ecevit supporters had stayed in the DSP. He also mocked comments that said Kılıçdaroğlu might be the leader to unite the left, saying, “Let him unite the CHP first, and then we’ll see about the rest.”
DSP Deputy Chairman Tufan Bural also harshly criticized Rahşan Ecevit, saying: “Bülent Ecevit has died a second time today. Rahşan Ecevit would not even let us say the C of the CHP. What has happened now for her to support the CHP? She is being used as an instrument in this major plot.”
Balances in left become clearer
İsmet İnönü’s granddaughter Gülsüm Bilgehan, who was expelled from the party under Baykal, also joined the congress. She was, in fact, elected to the Party Council. Nesrin Baytok, the woman allegedly shown in the sex tape featuring Baykal that led to his resignation, was elected as a deputy after Bilgehan was ousted from the party.
Other individuals that joined the congress included former Social Democratic Left Party (SHP) leader and former CHP Ankara mayoral candidate Murat Karayalçın, Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK) leader Süleyman Çelebi, Supreme Court of Appeals Honorary Chief President Vural Savaş and folk music performers Edip Akbayram, Yavuz Bingöl and Arif Sağ. These individuals were planning to start a new left-wing party as an alternative to the CHP before Kılıçdaroğlu’s election. Kamer Genç, an independent deputy from Tunceli who has applied for CHP membership, also joined the congress. Retired Gen. Tuncer Kılınç, an Ergenekon suspect, was also present.
Problems in the speech
Gürsel Tekin, who had prepared Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech, said there had been changes to the text. He said in the initial draft, the vision of the CHP was being emphasized and there was no opposition to the government. He said those parts must have been changed due to the influence of some media organs.
In its initial remarks, the government reacted to some newspapers presenting Kılıçdaroğlu as if he were the new prime minister. Spokespeople for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) said the change in the CHP was only a change in the leader and that Kılıçdaroğlu’s promises were empty. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş also agreed, saying, “Kılıçdaroğlu has indicated that the normal CHP policies will remain in place.”