The dilemma of Turkish opposition voters: To punish or not to punish CHP?

The dilemma of Turkish opposition voters: To punish or not to punish CHP?

I am not sure to what degree the traditional voters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) are following the developments to select candidates for the municipal elections.

There might be two reasons for the lack of interest: For some, there is no choice but to vote for the CHP. Therefore it matters less who will be nominated.

For the other group, no matter who gets nominated, it won’t make a difference. The CHP will again lose to the Justice and Development Party (Ak Parti) - Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance.

No doubt, in the course of the last decade, the AK Parti has succeeded in creating a sense of helplessness, a feeling of desperation among the supporters of the opposition. Worse, it succeeded in spreading fear. Seeing activists spend jail time over more than a year without seeing an indictment or even parliamentarians behind bars created a chilling effect even on those who want to use the most peaceful and legitimate tools to express their criticism or opposition to government policies.

But the CHP also has its share in the lack of interest in the municipal elections. No, it is not the feeling of successive defeats that has cut its supporters’ appetite. No, it is not the disappointment of losing again with a more assertive candidate that fueled the confidence that this time it was possible to win. The CHP’s presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, did create a wave of enthusiasm. Those who have worked and voted for him are not angry at the CHP or İnce for losing the election. They are extremely angry about the fact that neither CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu nor İnce were nowhere to be found on the night of the June elections during vote counting.

They still do not have proper answers to why they disappeared that night, why the monitoring system that was established to counter-check the votes did not work appropriately, but more important than that, who was held responsible and what was the consequence over the responsibilities for the failure of that system. The post-election period gave ample reason to fuel their anger. Not only the relationship between Kılıçdaroğlu and İnce was not properly managed as the latter lost again while challenging the former, but just as was the case with previous elections, no proper analysis was done within the party to see what went wrong and discuss how to move ahead.

Just as was the case in the previous elections, the CHP is again late in nominating their candidates and expects, for instance, a name less known to the public, but one that could have been a potential winner had the party decided earlier, to promote himself in three months and win against a prominent figure which the AK Parti prepares to name.

For traditional CHP voters this time it is not going to be about winning or losing. This time it is going to be about whether to punish the CHP to trigger a change or not. Change will not be triggered in the CHP unless it sees a hugely embarrassing loss (which is what for Kılıçdaroğlu and the others at top positions is by the way not known to me.)

But then comes the dilemma. “If there will be a huge drop in the CHP’s votes, we won’t be able to walk in the streets,” a former diplomat has told me.

Obviously, this was a metaphor. Many feel that in this suffocating circumstance, if there is a little bit of breathing air left for those who have different lifestyles than the ones practiced by AKP/MHP supporters, this is thanks to the votes casted to the CHP.

In view of the desperate circumstances of the secular minority some might ask what more can the AK Parti do? The last decade has proven wrong to those who hoped for improvement, hoping for AK Parti’s grudge against seculars and elites to weaken. But on the contrary, the everyday motto has become “wait, the worse has not come yet.”

For many the presence of the CHP, no matter how poorly it performs, has still checked the power of the rulers whose lust for unquestioned, unchallenged supremacy - if not checked - could have been more detrimental to the society.

But this then gets us back to the vicious circle. If dedicated voters do not punish the CHP, change will not be triggered and they will be sentenced to live with a poorly performing opposition. But if they abandon the CHP for an embarrassing defeat, would that mean signing their own death warrant?

BARÇIN YİNANÇ, CHP, Turkey elections 2019