Why is Erdoğan so angry with the CHP?
In his speech on the 33th anniversary of the September 12, 1980 military coup in Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan put a bold stress on democracy, as could be expected for such a day. He used the word “democracy” 13 times during his rather long address to a group of small and medium size investors in Istanbul.
One of the most used words in his speech, along with “September 12” and “May 27” in reference to the 1960 coup (which Erdoğan sees – and rightly so – as the basis for the following ones), was “CHP”; Turkish shorthand for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
He said in his speech that on that meaningful day the CHP was in Egypt “to welcome the coup” government there, with bitter sarcasm.
In his recent speeches Erdoğan has been giving so much space to criticizing the CHP and thus mentioning the party so frequently that part of the Turkish population is getting information about CHP activities thanks to Erdoğan’s speeches (almost all of them broadcast live by almost all national TV channels); since it is not always possible to hear about them through most media companies.
Those who are familiar with Turkish politics know that the CHP is not posing a threat for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government; all polls show that Erdoğan is likely to win a clear victory if an election is held today. And the situation within the CHP is not so promising as well. Recently two CHP members of the Parliament’s committee for a new constitution argued in front of deputies from other parties. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has transparently known difficulties in naming candidates for the March 2014 local elections.
Then why on earth is Erdoğan so worried and upset about the CHP?
There are two main reasons. The first is a belief by Erdoğan that it was the CHP which was behind the Gezi Park protests. Well some CHP members are flattered to hear that but at least the CHP headquarters know that it was not true; when the CHP wanted to take the lead after Gezi had started, demonstrators had not allowed them to do so in public. Motivated by a number of examples where some CHP deputies had joined the protestors, Erdoğan wants to show it as another attempt by the CHP to “prepare” the people for an anti-democratic move against his government.
The second reason is a diplomatic campaign by the CHP to go to neighboring Middle East capitals where Erdoğan could not go very easily nowadays. Kılıçdaroğlu himself led a delegation to Iraq where he met with both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as opposition parties in the last week of August.
Last week a high rank CHP delegation consisting of two retired ambassadors visited Egypt. They met not only with the officials of the interim government who took office after the toppling of President Mohamad Morsi by the military, but also the officials of the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood which backs Morsi. The CHP delegation even reportedly defended Erdoğan as the prime minister of the country when somebody used strong words against him during one of the contacts. They said they were going to report their contacts in Cairo in details to the Turkish Foreign Ministry as they did for Iraq.
Actually there is a place for the opposition parties in the international relations of democracies. When relations between governments are down, they help the channels between countries and peoples to open. Partly because of the political polarization in Turkey, Erdoğan doesn’t fancy that; he was able himself to go to anywhere he wants in the Middle East up until a few years before his government’s relations started to become sour with Israel because of the Gaza strip and with a number of Arab countries during the course of the Arab Spring.
Now the CHP people are talking about setting a visit to Gaza. That may not be very easy as the relations of Hamas are good with the Turkish government. But if that happens and Hamas meets the CHP in Gaza, than it means there are new political balances in the Middle East.