Three crises in one week in Turkey’s main opposition CHP
Three crises in one week have been experienced inside the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The first one was around former CHP chair Deniz Baykal. Baykal had called CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on April 26 to ask for a meeting. They met on April 30 and the meeting was reportedly productive, with Kılıçdaroğlu happy with Baykal’s analyses concerning the recent referendum results. As he was leaving, Baykal said he wanted to go on TV to discuss the content of the meeting, and Kılıçdaroğlu said that would be a good idea. On the evening of May 1, Baykal appeared on CNN Türk. Kılıçdaroğlu was not watching the live broadcast but his phone soon started ringing and messages started pouring in. Kılıçdaroğlu reviewed Baykal’s statements after the program and saw that he had diverted far beyond the framework of their meeting one day before. Although he was upset, Kılıçdaroğlu curbed the negative reactions, saying that Baykal had the right to explain his views.
The second crisis erupted on the morning of May 2. While Baykal’s statements were in the headlines of newspapers, a bigger surprise came when daily Akşam used CHP deputy Fikri Sağlar’s statements in its headline: “The real ‘one-man’ is Kılıçdaroğlu”
Calls and messages started pouring into Kılıçdaroğlu’s phone once again. Two sentences of Sağlar particularly upset him. One was his statement that “the real ‘one-man’ is Kılıçdaroğlu,” criticizing the CHP leader for suppressing intra-party debate. This was a line frequently used by ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) cabinet ministers during the referendum campaign, and now it is being used by a member of the CHP. The other disturbing sentence was Sağlar’s statement that “We may discuss a subject for six or seven hours but Kılıçdaroğlu ends up making his decision according to whoever whispers in his ear.”
Kılıçdaroğlu expected Sağlar to make an explanation about the newspaper story, but Sağlar was on TV for 55 minutes and stood behind his words. The CHP head therefore demanded that a disciplinary process be launched against Sağlar at the Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting. He rejected requests to stop the process, saying people were free to express their views but Sağlar was directly targeting him and his position.
The third crisis erupted with the resignation of Selin Sayek Böke from her positions as CHP spokesperson and deputy chair. Böke expressed concern about two incidents in particular. One was CHP member Levent Gök’s refutation on the same day of her suggestion to “return to the arms of the nation,” an expression used to describe resigning from the parliament, in protest at referendum irregularities. Kılıçdaroğlu had asked Böke to correct any misunderstandings, but Böke had gone to see an international delegation after her statement and did not answer her phone. For this reason, Gök was assigned to make the correction.
The second disturbing incident for Böke was the announcement of the MYK decision that “a regular party convention process has launched.” She was due to give a press conference on the issue and was told that CHP Deputy Chair Tekin Bingöl would also be coming along “to make technical explanations if needed.” Böke told her close associates that she was uncomfortable with this situation. Böke met Kılıçdaroğlu on May 6 and they discussed the two incidents. Kılıçdaroğlu told her that the first incident was not a “refutation” and tried to assure her that the second one did not imply any mistrust toward her. He also suggested that she could resign from her spokesperson post if she wanted, and Böke left saying that she wanted to think it over. After one hour, she visited him again, submitting her short resignation from her two posts. Kılıçdaroğlu said the timing was not correct and the resignation could harm the party. Böke’s resignation statement only said, “because of circumstances,” and she assured Kılıçdaroğlu that she would not adopt any stance that would harm the party.
Kılıçdaroğlu then went to another meeting, during which his assistant came in to give him a text of Böke’s statement. He did not read it, assuming it was simply her resignation. But after the meeting he was shocked when he read the text, which was the opposite of what they had discussed in their meeting.
“At a time when the country and the government are in trouble, when the governing system is changing, do not allow the public to discuss CHP only,” Kılıçdaroğlu reportedly said in the CHP’s latest party assembly meeting. It certainly looks like he faces a leadership test on how he manages these latest crises.