On Bernie Sanders, Kılıçdaroğlu and how to stop losing

On Bernie Sanders, Kılıçdaroğlu and how to stop losing

Last year, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president and lost. Then Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump. Having already lost the Senate and the House to Republicans long before the presidency, the political influence of the Democrats in the U.S. politics shrank drastically after the narrow defeat in the 2016 election. 

Sanders recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled “How Democrats Can Stop Losing.” That title immediately grabbed my attention since I thought it is quite resembled the discussions that have enveloped the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey after each election in the last decade. 

In his op-ed Sanders discusses that for the sake of his country – and also the world – the Democratic Party must change direction in a fundamental way. Sanders’ recipe for change is to come up with a fresh economic agenda that would win the hearts and minds of millions of Americans who work long hours for low wages. “The party must be prepared to take on the right-wing extremist ideology and the billionaire class and fight for an economy that work for all, not just the 1 percent,” suggests Sanders. For this aim, the Democrats should also appeal to moderate Republicans who are disgusted with Trump’s presidency, according to Sanders. 

It is worth noting that as a method for awakening the resentful masses, Sanders has always championed nationwide rallies, most recently in the context of saving Obamacare, which President Trump has vowed to terminate.

While I was reading Sanders’ piece, the news broke that a lawmaker from Turkey’s main opposition CHP had been arrested and sent to prison for “leaking state secrets” to daily Cumhuriyet, which reported claims in May 2015 that trucks allegedly owned by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) were carrying weapons and ammunition to jihadist rebels in Syria. In fact the CHP’s Enis Berberoğlu, who is my former editor in chief at Hürriyet and more importantly a friend, entered politics just three years ago after quitting his 36-year journalism career but always remained a journalist at heart. Thus, for me Berberoğlu’s arrest is the latest episode of a continuous assault on journalism and the public’s right to know. 

Undoubtedly, Berberoğlu’s arrest is also a turning point in terms of the government’s crackdown on the opposition. After all, the CHP is as old as the Republic and just like the Republic, it was established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founder of modern Turkey. The efforts to establish a link between the secular CHP and a terror organization which is believed to be run by an Islamic preacher is a significant indicator of how the political scene in Turkey might increasingly appear ahead of critical elections in 2019. 

Following the arrest of Berberoğlu, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced that were launching a “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul until justice is secured. And indeed the march kicked off in Ankara’s Güvenpark on June 15. Kılıçdaroğlu has called on everyone in search of democracy and freedom of thought to march with them.

It is difficult to see the call of Kılıçdaroğlu evolving into a long-lasting mass movement, primarily because of the extraordinary measures that the Turkish government enjoys under the state of emergency.

Moreover, the CHP has a credibility problem in the eyes of the Kurds whose main political representative, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has suffered a major campaign to politically destroy it with 12 of their lawmakers – including two co-chairs of the party – ending up in jail after the government lifted parliamentary immunities with support from the CHP. 

In fact, today the question for the CHP is bigger than attracting support for its justice march. With inspiration from Bernie Sanders, I cannot help but wonder when or rather if they will ever honestly dig into “how the CHP can stop losing” chapter. The political realities of the U.S. and Turkey are not quite alike but the true challenge is the same for the opposition in both countries: making politics relevant to those who have given up on democracy. But to first sustain his leadership and then save his party from losing, I’m afraid Kılıçdaroğlu needs a lot more than a stern economic agenda like Sanders has suggested for the U.S. Democrats.