Deniz Baykal: Old politician or quarterback?

Deniz Baykal: Old politician or quarterback?

A week ago, former Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal, 78, initiated a serious discussion on the upcoming presidential elections to be held in 2019. Baykal stated that the CHP needed to announce its presidential candidate as soon as possible and underlined the fact that the game’s rules have actually changed (in reference to the outcome of the constitutional referendum). He also said that past rules were no longer valid. 

“The CHP must act accordingly and as quickly as it can. Our presidential candidate should also assume the leadership of our party. He should have control over the party organization,” Baykal added. His statements fomented chaos in the CHP and raised feverish reactions in the media.

But what exactly did Baykal mean and what’s his strategy for 2019? Is he this old politician eager to come back and take over the leadership of the party or a quarterback trying to mobilize an unprecedented popular coalition embodied in the 49 percent of voters who voted against the presidential system? 

In American football, the quarterback is the player stationed behind the center who directs a team’s offensive play. Baykal sees in the 49 percent a historic opportunity to bring together different segments of the population, such as republicans, nationalists, socialists, Kurds and anti-imperialist conservatives. He possibly believes that he could successfully rally all these political actors and tendencies behind his name and beat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the second round of presidential elections. Therefore, he hints that he’s the only person capable in the CHP of shaping the right political framework to convince important portions of this heterogeneous electorate. 

Could he be wrong? He doesn’t seem to be, at least for now.

Baykal has the ear of CHP’s core electorate. His intra-party career is indisputable. Nationalists (especially those who voted against the presidential system) would definitely prefer Baykal to current leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. While the CHP’s chairman espouses social democracy, Baykal is more comfortable with the classical nationalistic discourse. Socialists don’t usually like Baykal. Nonetheless, it is highly likely that socialists wouldn’t have any other option than to endorse Baykal in an eventual second round scenario against Erdoğan. Surprisingly, Kurds have a fertile relations with Baykal too. His dialogue with the ex-mayor of Mardin, Ahmet Türk, seems to be very constructive in essence. Finally, if Baykal succeeds in adjusting his political program and his “story” in the right way with the help of qualified advisers, he could also gain the support of some conservative circles. 

Despite analysts’ negative feedbacks concerning the possible candidacy of Baykal, I think he would have great chances. The sole obstacle in front of him is his past sex scandal, which is severe material for counter-propaganda indeed. Nevertheless, as we live in a country where decadence has reached the sky’s limit, a mere sex scandal is likely to be considered a drop in the ocean. If Baykal works this problem out in an uninhibited fashion, then maybe the “New Turkey,” as some may call it, could be his to create.