CHP shoots itself in the foot in charter panel with Baykal’s gun

CHP shoots itself in the foot in charter panel with Baykal’s gun

The ghost of its former leader is chasing the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), raising the unfortunate possibility of taking the party back to its old methods of non-policy politics.

One day after former CHP leader Deniz Baykal severely criticized the party and its leadership, CHP members in a four-party commission in parliament tasked with preparing a new constitution withdrew from the panel on Feb. 16, citing the imposition of a presidential system.

It has been no secret for the last couple of years that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, want the current parliamentary system replaced with a presidential one, something that would give the country’s president vast executive powers. Erdoğan and AKP executives have been promoting the “benefits” of such a systemic change, and a new constitution based on a presidential system was among the AKP’s election promises in the Nov. 1, 2015 polls, in which it won the majority in parliament.

In such situation, it was obvious that the AKP would bring the presidential system to the panel tasked with drafting a new constitution, which consisted of three members each from the AKP, the CHP, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

And when it did, the CHP, as if it was seeking an excuse, abandoned the talks.

Although the opposition parties blamed the AKP for the failure of the panel, CHP deputy leader Bülent Tezcan’s remarks painted a somewhat different picture.

“We won’t be a part of a plan already underway,” said Tezcan, who was also one of the members of the panel. 

“We cannot be part of a commission that is just a side activity of the presidential system campaign of the AKP and the president,” he added.

Well, why was the CHP involved in the process at the start then? The main opposition party, just like the other three parties in parliament, promised voters a new constitution before the elections. How will it proceed now to keep that promise?

Just like the Baykal era, the CHP has recently been promoting what should not happen, instead of what should happen and how the party can contribute to it. 

On the constitution issue, for example, we know that the AKP wants a country shaped under a presidential system. It has reportedly prepared a draft charter and wants to discuss it. But for the CHP, what we know is “the first four articles cannot be discussed.” 

The first four articles of the existing constitution include clauses about Turkey as a secular state, Turkey’s official language as Turkish and its capital as Ankara.

These are issues the overwhelming majority of Turkish people agree on. But we still don’t know what kind of a constitution, and hence a country, the CHP envisions, other than some vague remarks such as “a more democratic Turkey purified of coup laws.”

The charter panel had already decided to make unanimous decisions, with the consensus of all 12 members. The CHP, as well as the HDP and the MHP, had already announced they would object to a shift to a presidential system, so why leave the panel on the third day instead of fighting on and forcing the AKP to unilaterally try to push such a charter through parliament, and possibly through a referendum?

I believe that the Baykal factor has been an issue here. His fierce criticism of the party administration, in which he accused some unnamed CHP members “of siding with the HDP policies” and asked CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to step down, might have played a psychological role in the decision of the party, which is already struggling with inner-party issues.

Baykal has been a master of non-politics. During his term as a party leader from the mid-1990s to 2010, he built the party’s policies around fear-mongering and fierce criticism, without any emphasis on the CHP’s plans in the event it came to power. An election campaign based solely on Kemalism and secularism resulted in a 9.5 percent vote in the 1999 general elections, giving Baykal the “privilege” of being the only CHP leader to have left his party out of parliament since its establishment in 1923, except the military coup eras.

 The strategy of focusing on “positive politics” under Kılıçdaroğlu has not brought the CHP into power, but helped it get on the right path and kept the party alive in the face of the most powerful political movement the country has ever seen. Returning to the old ways will probably be the last nail in the already struggling party’s coffin.

The rapturous cheer of AKP members and lawmakers when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu declared Baykal “the national opposition” in Feb. 16’s parliamentary group meeting should have been enough shame for Baykal, but unfortunately, he is probably happy about it.