Should Turkey’s main opposition shift to the right or to the left
It might sound a bit of a simplification but I might perhaps dare to say that looking from the outside at Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the party appears to be suffering from a phenomenon that is actually attributed to the general state of mind in Turkish society: polarization.
You have one side who says the CHP has lost its “leftist character” and needs to move “back” to the left. You have another side who claim the party has confined itself to a small core of “secularist” voters and that it needs to open itself to the electorate. The latter view is advocated by the party’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the choice of having conservative figures for Ankara’s municipality during the local elections, as well as for the presidential elections was a reflection of that view.
These choices, however, precisely fueled the debate over which direction the CHP should take, as Kılıçdaroğlu became the target of criticism of those who accused him of shifting the party to the right. Kılıçdaroğlu accepted their challenge by organizing a party convention last weekend.
So who is right and who is wrong? To find an answer we might perhaps rather ask what is right and what is left. Or who is in the right and who is in the left. In a country where according to the polls more than 60 percent says he/she is neither left wing nor right wing; those who want the CHP to succeed perhaps need to stop using these concepts. After all those who think that the CHP should go further to the left need to realize that the low income segments of the society, who in the past used to vote for left wing social democrat parties, have for the past decade chosen the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Whereas, for the past decade, the CHP has been getting votes from the middle and upper income segments of society who are traditionally known for voting for right wing parties.
In that respect, the CHP needs to realize that while it has a core constituency (around 20 percent) that will vote for it out of concern for maintaining their secular life styles; the priorities of an overwhelming majority is the economy. So CHP needs to come up with economic policies that promise to improve the welfare of the citizens. Rather than designing strategies of how to criticize the government on corruption charges, which did not pay off during the local elections, how to attain targets like access to better education, health services, equal employment opportunities, safeguarding the rights of the workers, while keeping a high level growth should be part of the CHP’s priority’s.
Perhaps it is indeed in that sense that the CHP needs to lean to the “left,” in other words become more vocal on social democratic policies that touch our everyday lives.
But it is not enough to devise the right policies; you need to convince the masses that you can indeed implement them when in government. Yet in order to be able to get its message across, the party needs to break the prejudices that exist among people, some of which are justified.
Indeed over the years the CHP has been out of touch with the ordinary man and woman on the street and needs to get rid of the impression that it has become the party of the old elites. It also needs to tackle the mistaken belief among the conservative masses that the CHP is against religion. CHP definitely needs to clarify the message that advocating secularism will not lead to the disregard of religious freedom. Opening party cadres to pious figures known by their sensitivity to religious/conservative values could be instrumental in clarifying this message. And the old guards need to understand that having pious figures does not lead to the erosion of secularism. The fact that a former imam of a mosque who was a CHP candidate during the local elections and who got the highest votes from delegates at the party assembly shows that Kılıçdaroğlu’s effort to mend fences with Turkey’s pious segments have been endorsed by the party’s overall members.
So for the question should CHP lean to the right or the left; the short answer perhaps is: it needs to do both. One thing is clear: secularism and religiosity are not oxymora.