Turkey’s CHP should stick to its new strategy, but maybe not its leader
As scenarios for Turkey’s next coalition government fly around, the political parties are also in a process to assess the results of the June 7 election and working on strategies for the future.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is obviously the most successful party, doubling its votes compared to the 2011 elections (in which the movement had independent candidates) and receiving just over 13 percent votes, above almost all expectations.
Many people believe that this result was possible thanks to “entrusted votes” cast for the HDP, mainly by traditional voters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). But it is still not really clear whether these votes were cast just to allow the HDP to pass the unfair 10 percent election threshold, or whether it was the result of the program the HDP offered and an appreciation of the campaign performance of its co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş.
The CHP and its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, ran a campaign that was much different than the party’s previous ones. Its election program focused on the economy alone, instead of focusing on secularism and the wrongdoings of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a strategy that failed in the previous elections.
The CHP failed to increase its votes compared to the 2011 election; the party’s votes dropped to 11.3 million from 11.5 million despite the increase in the number of voters, and its share in the total votes fell by one point to 25 percent.
This small decrease can be explained by the HDP’s successful campaign and the fear of another term of one-party AKP rule that would lead to a shift to a presidential system, which was much-desired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The votes the CHP received show that the new direction the party is headed has been welcome by its traditional voters, as well as other citizens.
According to a post-election poll conducted by Ipsos, 82 percent of citizens who voted for the CHP on June 7 voted for the same party in the 2011 election, while one in every five votes it received came from other voters. Those who did not go to the ballot box in 2011 had the biggest share here, with 6 percent.
Also, the poll says that 91 percent of those who voted for the CHP on June 7 would do the same after seeing the election results, which is the second highest among the four biggest parties, behind the AKP’s 95 percent.
So, the CHP has convinced its traditional voters to take this new problem-focused road, but it has again failed to reach out to the majority of voters.
The CHP takes pride in “being older than the Turkish Republic,” since the party was founded on Sept. 9, 1923, by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, more than a month before the republic was declared on Oct. 29. This history puts too much burden on the party’s shoulders. AKP officials, especially President Erdoğan, have been using the atrocities of the one-party era until 1950, by often exaggerating and twisting the facts, against the CHP in their election campaigns.
It is not easy to change the negative image of the CHP among the general electorate in one election campaign. But what the party and Kılıçdaroğlu have been trying to do have caught the eyes of millions of people in Turkey who have never considered voting for the party. The party should continue on its path of transformation to a real social democratic party, which will champion individual freedoms over state reflexes, especially in the areas of the Kurdish problem and the rights of minorities, and promise economic growth in which the poor will get the share they deserve.
One interesting result in the Ipsos poll came when the voters were asked which leader they most appreciated during the election period. While the AKP voters’ favorite was Erdoğan – no surprises there – followed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and the HDP and MHP leaders were the most popular names among their voters, 43 percent of those who voted for the CHP said Demirtaş was the most successful leader of the election campaigns, one point ahead of CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu.
The 66-year-old Kılıçdaroğlu has often said the CHP cadres should get younger, and has managed to make some limited changes toward this goal. This process should get faster if the party wants to go beyond its traditional voters.
The CHP is on the right path to becoming the social democratic/socialist party Turkey desperately needs, and the June 7 results show that its voters back such a transition. Kılıçdaroğlu deserves the credit for launching this process, but he will most probably not be the leader to complete it.