CHP takes out heavy guns for Istanbul ahead of general elections
A successful result in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city in terms of both the population and the economy, will be a main battleground for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the June 7 general elections.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu visited his party organization in Istanbul yesterday, as part of the CHP’s ambitious target to be the top party in the city, which will send 88 lawmakers to parliament in three electoral regions.
“We will work in Istanbul, where certain spots have become the centers of poverty,” Kılıçdaroğlu told party members during his visit. “We have children and women who live in Istanbul but have never even seen the sea. There are 4 million homes in Istanbul; we will reach each and every one of them. Our provincial leader has promised, we will.”
Istanbul is also a personally special place for Kılıçdaroğlu, whose political career took off when he ran for the mayor’s post in the city in 2009, losing out to incumbent Kadir Topbaş but increasing his party’s vote share. That is why last December he appointed one of the party’s big guns, Murat Karayalçın, to the provincial post in the city which, with millions of people who have migrated from across the country, reflects the political dynamics of a whole country rather than just a city.
Karayalçın, a former mayor of Ankara who left the deputy prime minister and foreign minister’s post in 1995 to merge his Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) with Deniz Baykal’s CHP, humbly accepted the post, although he has spent his entire life and political career in Ankara.
In a meeting with the press on Jan. 28, Karayalçın set the target of getting more votes than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul.
Despite the optimism of the party members with the arrival of Karayalçın, they have a hard task on their hands.
In the March 29, 2014 local elections, the CHP were 8.5 percent behind the AKP in votes cast for the Istanbul municipal council - 45 percent to 36.5 percent.
But there is still room for the CHP to be hopeful, since the result was an improvement for the party compared to the 2011 general elections, when the AKP was 18.2 points ahead of the CHP, with 49.4 percent to 31.2 percent.
In that election, the AKP won 46 of the 85 total parliamentary seats in Istanbul, followed by the CHP with 29. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won seven seats with 9.4 percent of the vote, while three seats went to independent candidates, who are now all members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
In addition to the effort that should be put on the field in the campaign - something Karayalçın’s team is very experienced at, having run three municipal campaigns in Ankara against Mayor Melih Gökçek - the method to determine the candidates will play a key role in the CHP’s success.
Karayalçın has on various occasions stated that he favors primary elections to decide the candidates, rather than the party administration dictating the list.
There are already hundreds of people hoping to be on the CHP list. Those hopefuls include deputy party leaders, such as Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Gürsel Tekin, current lawmakers, former provincial and district heads and board members, including former provincial head Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, as well as academics, bureaucrats, and NGO executives.
Giving all those candidates the opportunity to race under equal conditions in a primary election to be decided by the members of the party is not only a must for a social democratic party, but a colorful race within the party will also provide a chance for the CHP’s organization to warm up for a tough election campaign.
The CHP already has a very strong constituency in some districts of Istanbul, such as Beşiktaş, Kadıköy, Şişli and Bakırköy, mostly consisting of urban voters, but it struggles to attract results among the poor. That is why fighting poverty will be a key issue in the election strategy of Karayalçın, who will try to reach an audience that the CHP has long been cut off from. That is not something you can achieve with candidates sent in from Ankara.
The primary elections within the CHP could get ugly and messy, but the Ankara-centered system has always failed so far. If the CHP is ever to be able to present itself as an alternative to the AKP, it should put its own house in order first and let democracy make the key decisions.
With Karayalçın, the CHP has a real shot at emerging strongly in Istanbul. The know-it-all politicians at the CHP headquarters should at least take the chance.