A few smart moves by Turkey’s opposition CHP

A few smart moves by Turkey’s opposition CHP

There was a reception at Istanbul’s gorgeous Çırağan Palace on the evening of March 26 held by top industrialist Güler Sabancı in honor of Sabancı University member Dr. Fatih Birol’s election as the director of the International Energy Agency (IEA); she seemed truly proud of Birol’s success.

At the ceremony, Abdullah Gül, the former president of Turkey, said he was happy because of the success for another reason as well: there were more names from Turkey in top international positions than compared to a few years ago. Gül gave the examples of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Kemal Derviş, former head of the U.N. Development Programme.

That is interesting because only two hours before, Derviş signaled his return to Turkish politics by accepting an offer from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), to serve as the economy chief of a possible CHP or CHP-involved government after the June 7 elections.

There are no reliable polls showing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) below 40 percent and the CHP above 30. Kılıçdaroğlu himself recently set the CHP target at 35 percent.

But regardless of the CHP’s future place in the government or opposition, the move is a smart one because it gives a strong signal about the CHP’s economic policy. Derviş was a World Bank economist invited to Turkey by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit in 2001 to cope with the biggest financial crisis in the country. Derviş assumed control of the Treasury, setting up new and dynamic teams in both the Treasury and the Central Bank and despite a fragile three-party government, it was Derviş who led a series of structural reforms. When the AKP came to power in 2002, Ali Babacan and his team followed the “Derviş reforms,” with most of Derviş’s same teams in the first couple of years as a transition.

Now, because there are worries in the capital circles in and outside Turkey about a possible post-Babacan era if the AK Parti is to continue (a high possibility right now), the CHP has provided a viable alternative to them by announcing Derviş, a social democrat himself, as their economy chief.
Perhaps that was the reason why the CHP’s Derviş move was the talk of the hall with a sigh of relief at the Sabancı reception, second to the success of Dr. Birol.

There have been other smart moves made by the CHP as the country heads for elections. For example, Kılıçdaroğlu’s promise to give two extra retirement premiums a year – and before two Islamic religious festivals – echoed in society, causing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to react by claiming that there were not enough resources for that.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s reply was that only a small cut from the luxurious spending of the government would be enough, implying the rumors among the people regarding the extravagant Ak Saray palace of President Tayyip Erdoğan. Faik Öztrak, who served as the undersecretary of the Treasury for both Derviş and Babacan and is now an MP for the CHP, says he could easily find the resources.

Another move which differentiates the CHP from its rivals in this election is its degree of in-house democracy. Though not at 100 percent efficiency, it is the only party allowing its grassroots to determine a great majority of the candidates for the parliamentary elections in June. In the AK Parti, for example, the candidates are to be handpicked by the headquarters, with ongoing tension inside the party about whose influence will be higher: Erdoğan or Davutoğlu.

Will these relatively smart moves be enough to carry the CHP to its 35 percent target or to the government, even if a coalition one?

We cannot see this in the polls yet, but if the CHP touches the 30 percent base, it will radically change the entire political spectrum, especially if the Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) exceeds the unfair 10 percent threshold and gets into parliament.