‘New Turkey’ needs a ‘new’ party on the left

‘New Turkey’ needs a ‘new’ party on the left

We have been experiencing a “new Turkey” since the beginning of this week. A “new Turkey” in which president-elect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is destined to become the sole decider for both the future of the ruling party and the country.

The results of the Aug. 10 presidential election give politicians two important messages:

1. The majority of the voters are behind Erdoğan, a conservative politician who is a proud Sunni Muslim and does not shy away from discriminating against the followers of any other belief or non-believers.

2. Those who do not support Erdoğan may hesitate to back a candidate or party only based on their dislike of the current situation.

Leaving aside the debate over the next prime minister and what will happen in the Justice and Development Party (AKP), an issue that some opposition members are unfortunately pinning their hopes on, those who dream of a different Turkey – and believe that their dream is possible through the parliamentary system – should get ready to start from scratch.

Let’s get the facts clear first: Turkey is a Sunni Muslim-dominated country where over 60 percent of citizens define themselves as conservatives, rightists, Turkish nationalists, or Muslims. So a leftist or center-leftist popular party aiming to win elections starts the game one goal behind.

The major player on the left of the political spectrum in Turkey – at least it claims to be - is the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). But here is the problem: The CHP was not founded to be a leftist party, the party’s name is behind all the atrocities of the one-party era, from the foundation of the Republic in 1923 up to the 1950 general elections, when the Democrat Party (DP) took over the administration.

For example, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has yet to openly criticize the military operations that took place in Tunceli (Dersim) between 1937 and 1938, during which thousands of innocent people were killed in the name of putting down a revolt. And Kılıçdaroğlu is a local of Dersim, whose relatives are among the victims of the military clampdown at the time.

The CHP steered to the left in the late 1960s, when the leftist movement enjoyed its peak in Turkey in order to avoid losing its voters to the socialist Workers Party of Turkey (TİP). It also did not make any move to cut its ties with Kemalism, an ideology that emerged after the death of the Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and continued to be a big advocate of the state against the individual.

With Kılıçdaroğlu replacing Deniz Baykal as party leader in May, 2010, there have been some changes on this stance. But, while doing this, Kılıçdıroğlu has mainly relied on conservative figures, nominating former nationalists and rightist politicians in the local elections and finally naming Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu as a joint presidential candidate with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). This formula has obviously not worked, since the CHP has come behind the AKP in every election under Kılıçdaroğlu.

Now, a group of dissident lawmakers within the CHP, led by former prosecutor Emine Ülker Tarhan, are calling for Kılıçdaroğlu’s resignation. The group’s statement accused the party leader of “turning his back on the fundamental principles of the party and the left.” This group may have something to say about the fundamental principles of the party, which are problematic anyway, but they do not have much right to talk about the left or freedoms.

One of the group members is Birgül Ayman Güler, who is the most vocal name in the CHP to speak out against the ongoing government-led Kurdish peace process. “The solution process is the process of dispersing the national and unitary state in Turkey,” according to Güler, who sees no difference between the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Another name in the group, Nur Serter, is known for her tough stance on headscarf-wearing students when she was an academic at Istanbul University. She is one of the most hated names not only for political Islamists, but also for those who advocate a free dress code in universities.

Kılıçdaroğlu is right to openly challenge this group, because it is no longer sustainable to both keep such names happy and pursue libertarian polices like a real social democratic party.

The CHP leader is right in his quest to reform the 90-year-old party, but wrong to believe that the party should include rightists while doing so. The right flank of politics in Turkey already has more than enough political parties across a wide spectrum, and there is no place for the CHP there.

Instead, the party leadership should stop worrying about offending a minority group in the party and its electorate, and should start speaking confidently about religious freedoms, the rights of minorities, and especially the Kurdish problem.

Turkey urgently needs a populist leftist party and it is still not too late for the CHP to redesign itself to fulfill the need. Otherwise, voters will soon start to look somewhere else, and Selahattin Demirtaş’s HDP is already emerging as a strong alternative.