Why did only the opposition CHP have primary elections in Turkey?
Only one party in the Turkish parliament had primary elections to determine its candidates for the June 7 general elections: The social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
This was actually the first time in many years that the CHP has held primaries. And the process did not cover all of its candidates either. In only 55 cities out of 81 provinces (though in most of the major cities) members cast their votes for candidates that they wanted to represent their party in parliament.
For the remaining provinces, the CHP headquarters also held internal polls among its members, leaving a limited number of candidacy positions to be directly named by party chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
However, no other parties - not the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), not the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and not the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) - asked their supporters in a secret vote, open count, and transparent election system.
While a handful of party officials were selecting names from applicants behind closed doors in other party HQs on March 29, hundreds and thousands of CHP members queued up at polling stations for the same purpose. This is as it should be in functioning democracies, but it is a practice that has been forgotten for many elections in Turkey - for the CHP as well.
The main reason behind Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision to hold primary elections was to be able to reform his party, with the aim of becoming a viable alternative to the AK Parti’s domination in at least the next election, if not in this upcoming one. “My dream is to become the prime minister in order to put an end to all injustice and poverty,” he told FOX TV on March 30.
But Kılıçdaroğlu should know well that in order to achieve that goal you have to come up with an updated political line, and in order to update a party you have to update your structure with people who believe in change. The CHP even put his name on the primary election list, in order not to set a privileged example.
In the end, the CHP’s primaries on March 29 apparently served the “renewal” purpose well.
The old guard that led the CHP through its most static years experienced its worst results ever. In the past, this old guard had always held the top positions in the “leader quota” system, but on March 29 many of them suffered crushing defeats in their constituencies.
In contrast, young local leaders and a surprisingly high number of women candidates, who have been working for years within the people, were preferred by the grassroots over the names representing the old establishment. The names with nationalist tendencies were pushed down to the bottom of the lists, while names with social democratic tendencies rose.
This could be the beginning of a transformation of the CHP; perhaps not overnight but seemingly in the right direction.
If the CHP’s primary election sets an example for all parties in the system in the next elections, it could lead to a better functioning democracy in Turkey.