The appalling poverty of CHP
If one thing is certain about the past decade in Turkish politics, it is the phenomenal success of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Whether you like or hate what this party has done so far, you cannot disregard its competence in transforming Turkey in ambitious ways. But this is only one side of the coin, because the success of the AKP is made possible partly by an outside actor: the intellectual poverty and the political incompetence of its main rival, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Here is why. In the past decade, the CHP was run by two successive leaders, Deniz Baykal and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The first one, who led the party until 2010, did simply nothing other than disseminating fear about the politics, and intentions, of the AKP. For years, Baykal’s number-one issue was not allowing the Islamic headscarf to enter university campuses and the presidential palace. Under his leadership the CHP promised nothing about the economy, healthcare, jobs or the European Union reforms. It only sold fear and thus got the votes of only the fearful. Then came Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a man who was more likeable than Baykal on many grounds. To his credit, Kılıçdaroğlu also moved away from the headscarf obsession and the secularism hysteria.
Yet Kılıçdaroğlu had come to power not thanks to a real political struggle in the party, but a sex scandal of his predecessor. He, in other words, was not much prepared. Soon, this problem started to show itself, for neither Kılıçdaroğlu nor his team knew much about “the real issues” on which they promised to focus. Hence, his “focus on the economy” remained limited to speculations about how Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to buy a nice villa in Istanbul and a few other accusations of corruption that he was not able to prove. More recently, Kılıçdaroğlu’s “new” CHP has proven as closed minded as the old one on two key issues: the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the civil war in Syria.
On the first issue, the CHP is proving unwilling to support the dialogue that the AKP government initiated with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, in order to put an end to Turkey’s 30-year-long internal conflict. Even the strongest critics of the AKP acknowledge that this is a brave and crucial initiative that deserves support, but Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu does the opposite by questioning the “legality” of talks with Öcalan.
On the Syria issue things are even worse. Since the beginning of the Syrian regime’s brutality against its own people, the CHP has sent four delegations to Damascus, all of which helped to advance the regime’s propaganda. Some CHP deputies have given open support to the Bashar al-Assad regime, dismissing all the reports about the regime’s crimes as “imperialist lies.” Whatever the reason is – sectarian, ideological or simply being anti-AKP – the CHP is taking the wrong side of history with regards to Syria.
This is bad news for not only the CHP but also Turkey itself, for no democracy can work well without a reasonable and promising opposition. That is why I hope to see a saner CHP for the sake of the country. I just am growingly convinced that it is not a dream that will come true soon.