CHP: To change or not to change

CHP: To change or not to change

After a restructuring congress by the ruling Justice and Developments Party (AK Parti) following the Aug. 10 presidential elections, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is holding an extraordinary congress over the weekend.

The reason for the AK Parti congress was simple: Former Chairman and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as president and he had to be replaced by someone else. Former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was elected unanimously as the new chairman and then became the new prime minister.

The reasoning for the CHP’s congress is a bit different: The in-party debate in the wake of its defeat in the presidential election.

The traditionalist wing of the party, calling itself the nationalist-left, has been criticizing CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu ever since then for not putting forward a republican-leftist as the party’s presidential candidate, instead opting for Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu - a non-partisan professor who had previously served as the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Accusing those critical MPs of not working for the party but still constantly criticizing it publicly, Kılıçdaroğlu decided to confront the challenge and called for the congress.

Muharrem İnce, a former spokesman for the CHP in Parliament, is a candidate in the congress that will convene today (Sept. 5) in Ankara. İnce - a hardworking, grassroots politician - is actually not a member of the traditionalist group in the party, but is seeking support of the traditionalists.

Still, he has a point. İnce says the CHP should focus on taking power instead of being a better opposition.

That is extremely important as Turkey heads into parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015.
This seems to have been the CHP’s main problem for decades, after the party was closed down by the military regime following the 1980 coup. As the founding party of the Turkish Republic, the CHP spends much of its energy and resources in fights between internal factions.

Kılıçdaroğlu, who defines himself as a social democrat, says that if the CHP cannot develop a new economic policy to attract the attention of working people, cannot develop a new stance on Turkey’s Kurdish issue, cannot push for more rights for all, and cannot mobilize younger people and especially women for that line, it will not be possible to win power. It may not even be possible to reach the psychological threshold of 30 percent in the 2015 election.

In a recent interview with daily Hürriyet, Kılıçdaroğlu said he was going to make the clear at the congress, and if he wins he will not make particular efforts to keep in the party those who do not think the same way. That means a crossroads.

This congress may well be key, a turning point to understand whether the CHP will keep its traditional line for the sake of principles or change with the aim of winning power; or at least pose a real threat to the government as a serious counterbalance in politics.