Nothing new on the Turkish opposition front
The CHP congress has in a way reflected the current static situation in Turkish politics: There is no strong alternative to government and no strong alternative to the opposition leader.
The “Justice March” Kılıçdaroğlu led in June-July 2017 after CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in prison following a controversial trial was a major reason why CHP delegates sided with Kılıçdaroğlu again.
Since his election as CHP chairman in 2010, Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to increase the CHP’s potential from the 21-22 percent band to the 25-26 pct band, but has stopped there. With Turkey’s political system undergoing a radical transformation, serious foreign policy and security problems and a growing gap between the rich and poor, the CHP needs an ambitious overhaul to hit the mark and increase its share of the vote. But there is no sign of it yet. Even the pledges of Kılıçdaroğlu’s rival, İnce, were more ideological then political. The CHP is either about to lose its power perspective or has already lost it.
That said, the burden on the CHP’s shoulders as main opposition party to stand up to the AK Parti’s domination is increasing. The Kurdish-issue oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is not only crippled by widespread arrests thanks to the state of emergency declared after the July 2016 coup attempt, but also mostly preoccupied with one issue. Opposing Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin, a district held by the U.S.-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is a Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), appears to be the HDP’s most important political issue. It has become rather easy for the AK Parti to label and accordingly denounce the HDP opposition as “illegitimate,” if not “illegal” in the eyes of the public.
The AK Parti wants to push the CHP into an alliance with the HDP to label them both as “supporters of separatist terrorists.”
Kılıçdaroğlu has been careful not to fall into the trap so far. In his congress speech he used the expression “Kurdish problem,” which could easily be subject to attack, but he also gave his full support to the anti-PKK fight, including the Afrin operation.
While putting pressure on Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan is trying to form a “national alliance” with a number of right-wing parties. Erdoğan’s AK Parti has already reached an agreement with Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for the 2019 presidential elections, in which he needs to secure at least 50 percent of the votes to get re-elected. The minor Greater Unity Party (BBP) with its Islamist-nationalist tendency has openly announced its willingness to join. The AK Parti also wants to attract the Felicity Party (SP), which has Islamist roots.
As across-the-board opposition groups are concerned, apart from the CHP, there is only the İYİ (Good) Party, formed of a faction that split from the MHP in reaction to Bahçeli’s leaning-to-Erdoğan line. The İYİ Party wants to expand its center-right power base. But there is no guarantee that the IYI Party will exceed the 10 percent electoral threshold to enter parliament in the 2019 parliamentary elections, which have been slated for November, on the same day as the first round of the presidential elections.
As Erdoğan tries to reinforce the government front by importing fraction votes from the right, the CHP is trying to broaden its power base with extreme care not to be associated with the HDP, which would put it in the government’s crosshairs.
This is another reason why Kılıçdaroğlu needs to make a real change to the CHP’s party structure, perspective and targets. With only a year between now and the next elections, the clock is ticking.