Main opposition CHP as ‘Turkey’s Unifying Power’

Main opposition CHP as ‘Turkey’s Unifying Power’

Turkey’s main opposition party yesterday unveiled its strategy for the March 30 local elections, and the slogan that it will use: “Turkey’s Unifying Power.”

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been highlighting the polarization in the country, which it said was fueled by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s harsh remarks. This polarization has become more obvious since the Gezi protests of June 2013. Since then, the prime minister, officials of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their supporters have been accusing all opposition of “supporting a non-military coup attempt,” and labeling all kinds of protests and marches as “plots against the national will.”

In such a political environment, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has made a bold move ahead of the local polls and taken steps to create a sort of “anti-AKP front.”

“Turkey has come to the end of divisive policies based on beliefs, values, and personal preferences. The mentality that has tried to imprison Turkey in polarization for the last 11 years fails to rule the country anymore,” Kılıçdaroğlu said yesterday at the meeting, as he announced the CHP’s strategy.

Having been accused in the past by Prime Minister Erdoğan of “trying to take over the government without elections,” Kılıçdaroğlu made it clear that his party aimed at achieving power through the polls.

“Whenever Turkey has needed unity, the address has been the CHP,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to the CHP’s long history and the party’s role in the foundation of the Turkish Republic. “Today, millions of people who see that the CHP is the address for unity have gathered around the party. We have opened our doors to all of Turkey’s colors, all its segments, all the quiet and all the unfortunate,” the CHP leader added.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks were in line with the strategy that he has pursued in the campaign so far. After inviting a few center-right names to the party in the 2011 general elections, the doors are now wide open to all politicians on the right.

At the risk of alienating the leftist voters of his party, he nominated the former Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) member and former mayor of the Beypazarı district, Mansur Yavaş, as the CHP’s candidate in Ankara against Mayor Melih Gökçek.

In Hatay on the Syrian border, the CHP nominated Lütfü Savaş, the current mayor who resigned from the AKP when the ruling party decided to enter the mayoral race with former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. The CHP’s candidates in the western provinces of Bursa and Balıkesir, where the party does not enjoy much support, are also former members of center-right parties.

Even the CHP’s Istanbul candidate, Mustafa Sarıgül, who is known for his populist attitude, is a sign of Kılıçdaroğlu’s plans to be able to create a genuine alternative to the AKP.

There has been a constant ideological struggle within the party since the 1960s, when CHP officials first said the party was “on the left of the center.” The party has always included Kemalists, nationalists, and social democrats, along with socialists. The party’s polices on the main issues, especially on the Kurdish problem and religious freedoms, remain major sources of debate within the party, and it not uncommon to see two CHP lawmakers on opposite sides of an argument.

In this diverse and complicated party, Kılıçdaroğlu has enjoyed a relatively calm environment since his election. The opposition against him has been silent, especially because they are aware that slamming the party leader at a time when the AKP enjoys 50 percent of the vote and uses this to pressure its opponents won’t work to their own benefit.

But now, Kılıçdaroğlu is putting his political career on the line with his local elections move. If the CHP fails to increase its votes despite the “imported candidates,” his opponents within the party will want Kılıçdaroğlu’s head, which they will probably get.