Kılıçdaroğlu avoids taking risks

Kılıçdaroğlu avoids taking risks

Turkey’s main opposition leader is preferring a smooth transformation as he prepares his party for upcoming challenges against the ruling party.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) held a two-day convention in Ankara to reshape the administration that will lead the party through the local elections in 2014 and into the country’s first presidential election by popular vote.

Despite high expectations from a convention titled “Democracy and Change,” leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu avoided a speech that might irk the staunch secularists and Kemalists within the party, possibly fearing an inner-party conflict at a time when his administration is under fire for “moving the party away from its Kemalist and republican roots.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s messages of democracy and freedom were followed by strong references to the party’s past and its founding leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The party’s policies were changing “to reach and go beyond the level of contemporary civilization, which is the direction in which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk pointed,” according to Kılıçdaroğlu.

The CHP’s confusion between leftist policies, which many members attending the convention believe would open the way to an election victory, and its Kemalist roots were apparent even in the music played in the convention hall. A revolutionary song of the 1970s, including the lyrics “our country is full of fascists, hit them, brothers” was followed by a song saying “Long live Mustafa Kemal Pasha, with your soldiers, nation and flag.” That happened before Kılıçdaroğlu addressed the party members as “comrades.”

Being “the party that founded the Turkish Republic” puts a huge burden on the party’s shoulders. Many CHP members - even after the party declared in the 1970s that it was “on the left of the center” and paved the way to pursue social democrat policies - considered themselves to be guardians of the Republic and hence kept a distance from liberal policies.

Now, Kılıçdaroğlu and his supporters are taking on the huge task of transforming the CHP into a modern social democratic party that will focus on individual freedoms and democracy. They will need to convince their members first, before trying to convince the electorate.

Although this task needs risk-taking, Kılıçdaroğlu even avoided the responsibility of shaping the Party Assembly by announcing a 100-name list for the 60 members that will be elected. His supporters defended this move as expanding inner-party democracy “because he did not dictate his own list to the party delegates.”

The expectation was that Kılıçdaroğlu would announce the names he wanted to lead the party with over the next two years, and that a majority of party members were ready to respect their leader’s choices and vote on that list. But instead, the party leader gave the message that he “will work with whoever the delegates vote for.”

That in fact, gives Kılıçdaroğlu a weapon that might be used in the event of a poor election result. “I’ve been working with your choices, and that’s where it has brought us,” is a possible post-election statement from the main opposition leader. Kılıçdaroğlu avoids taking risks.