CHP’s economic pledges can hold
I was on my way to Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, going to Ankara to ask questions of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the social democratic opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for an NTV live show on April 20.
The driver was listening to the news on the radio. The first thing on the news was President Tayyip Erdoğan, slamming Kılıçdaroğlu for his words a day before that he did not want to attack the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) too much because the CHP might be in a position to form a coalition government with the HDP. “Coalition means a nightmare,” Erdoğan said, raising his voice. Erdoğan then asked voters to provide him with 400 deputies (out of 550) in the June 7 elections (after a week’s retreat to 335) for “stability,” implying his super-presidency model; of course, he didn’t name the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), but the voters understood what he meant anyway.
The second news piece was on a meeting between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and representatives of the Roma people, for whom Davutoğlu must have felt he had to do something about after Kılıçdaroğlu named a Roma civil rights defender as a candidate for parliament. He promised to name a “Roma advisor” for himself. The news was about a famous Roma singer, Kibariye, joking with him as an “itsy-bitsy chirpy prime minister, just like me.”
The third was about Kılıçdaroğlu’s declaration of the CHP election program. His first quotes were about strengthening Turkey’s parliamentary system with stronger checks and balances, just the opposite of what Erdoğan was asking for. But it was when he started to list the CHP’s promises on the economy (raising the minimum wage, increasing retirement pensions, unemployment and job oriented education) that I noticed the driver turn the volume of the radio up and start to listen carefully.
After landing in Ankara’s Esenboğa airport, I was again listening to the news on the radio in another car taking me downtown. It was Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek live on CNN-Türk, saying he would vote for the CHP if Kılıçdaroğlu could explain one-third of the sources of his economic promises. “Abi,” the driver said as he turned to me, calling me elder brother in Turkish, “Someone should come up and tell the government to spend less on luxury, so they can find a source for people. Even my wife [he made a gesture that she was covered, implying that she would vote for the AK Parti] is saying that she might vote for the CHP. We are all in economic difficulties.”
Some three hours later during the NTV live interview, Kılıçdaroğlu said something similar. “Turkey is a country richer than this government thinks. There are sources more than enough for those schemes, but it depends where you spend them. We’ll spend them for the benefit of the people, to reactivate the social state,” he said.
For the first time in many years, the AK Parti government is in a defensive position in a public debate with the opposition. This is mainly because the CHP has shifted its policy from an ideology-based one of being anti-Erdoğan, all the time, to an economy-based one, telling what they want to do instead of criticizing the AK Parti. This constructive kind of opposition seems to be working, at least causing drivers to turn up the volume of their radios to listen carefully about economic pledges, which they would have liked to have seen become real in the past 13 years of AK Parti power.
So far, the question of the HDP exceeding the unfair 10 percent threshold has been the most exciting factor of the June 7 elections. Not only because of its possible effect on the future of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, but also because of its possible effect on Erdoğan’s super-presidency target, the HDP has announced its objection to joining the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
But the economic promises of the CHP could be the second factor of excitement in the elections after the HDP breaking the threshold, which means another source of problems for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu.
Yet Erdoğan has the capability of drawing another rabbit from his hat at the very last moment. Therefore, it might be still too early to comment on the results, but at least there is a growing excitement among voters, as Turkey heads for the polls on June 7.