Re-elected CHP leader vows radical changes

Re-elected CHP leader vows radical changes

The extraordinary congress of Turkey's main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), in the wake of the party's presidential election defeat to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), re-endorsed the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, but with a warning to work harder for success in the next parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015.

For the first time since his election as chairman of the party in 2010, there was a rival to Kılıçdaroğlu in this congress: Muharrem İnce, who has been one of the CHP’s most active spokespeople in Parliament.

İnce lost the race, but he said the reason why he was a candidate was because he and the party's supporters had become fed up with losing elections one after another. “If you elect me, I promise that the lights of our headquarters will not be turned off early on the next election night, like a funeral house,” he said in his address to the congress.

Engin Altay, another parliamentary spokesman who delivered the opening speech, (and who is also a supporter of Kılıçdaroğlu), emphasized that the CHP greatly missed leading the government and underlined that the party had not established a government since 1977. Bülent Ecevit, the leader of the CHP in 1977, led another coalition government in 1999, but he was by then leading the Democratic Left Party (DSP), a splinter from the CHP.

As the founding party of the republic of Turkey, this situation has caused chronic pains, strains and factional fights within the CHP, consuming much of its energy. Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to lift the party's rating from 21-22 percent to 27-28 percent, but this is far from posing a viable political threat to the AK Parti, which has held the government since 2002 through three consecutive elections.

Kılıçdaroğlu, defining himself as a social democrat, has been under the heavy criticism of the traditionalist and radical secularist wing of the party for dragging the party toward the “right” by supporting the presidential candidacy of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, a former secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), rather than showing a symbolic name as the CHP's candidate. Kılıçdaroğlu listed his and the CHP’s "leading position" in a number of recent social developments - from the Gezi Park protests to the Soma mining disaster and corruption cases against the AK Parti governments - and asked, “Were these designed to drag the party to right?”

He then started to vow radical changes in a rather agitated tone. “I am Kemal the revolutionary,” he said. “I am going to clear this party of those elitists who do not work among the people for the success of the party, but who save Turkey around rakı tables” – a reference to the traditional Turkish alcoholic drink. “To save the country after the second double of rakı” is a black joke in Turkey to refer to those who do nothing but talk.

Underlining his “new” social democratic understanding as “being equal in richness,” not poverty, Kılıçdaroğlu promised there would be more opportunities for women and youths in the party in the 2015 elections.

The Kurdish problem was another topic he touched on. “This is basically a problem of freedom and democracy,” he said. “That cannot be left to soldiers.” He promised to work hard to get this problem solved within the democracy and unity of the country.

Kılıçdaroğlu got re-elected without much difficulty, but real change is to be observed in the congress voting for Party Assembly; moreover, it remains to be seen whether the traditionalist – or “elitist” names as Kılıçdaroğlu calls them – will be replaced with new ones reflecting his promises. The profile of the new CHP executive bodies will show whether the party will have a new impetus to realize its targets in the 2015 elections.