The unexpected (and unnecessary) resurrection of Deniz Baykal

The unexpected (and unnecessary) resurrection of Deniz Baykal

Deniz Baykal, an Antalya lawmaker from the ranks of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was hopeful about the ongoing talks for a coalition government.

“The negotiations are continuing, I hope that we will soon reach a consensus to form a government,” Baykal told reporters.

Although the quotes look fresh, Baykal, the former leader of the CHP, made these remarks on Jan. 20, 1974, days before a coalition government was formed between Bülent Ecevit’s CHP and Necmettin Erbakan’s National Salvation Party (MSP).

Baykal was a key figure in the negotiations that led to the government, and was given the finance minister’s post in Ecevit’s cabinet, starting his over 30 years of political career as the youngest minister of the coalition.

And just when many people thought Baykal’s political career had effectively ended, he made a glorious comeback to the scene following a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week.

Baykal was unable to hide his joy when he was talking to the reporters after the meeting, and the following television and newspaper interview gave him the chance to enjoy being back on center stage again. 

For many people in Turkey, Baykal’s name brings to mind the Turkish word “hizip,” meaning fraction or split. Having been a part of the Ecevit group which ousted İsmet İnönü as the CHP leader in 1972, his career in inner-party opposition took off with a speech at an extraordinary congress of the CHP in 1979, in which he severely criticized the party administration and leader Ecevit.

Baykal was forced to take a break from active politics following the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup. He was detained by the junta and was banned from politics for five years.

In the general elections in September 1987, Baykal was elected an Antalya lawmaker for the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), which was founded to replace the CHP after it was shut down and banned by the junta. Baykal became the party’s deputy parliamentary group leader and was elected the secretary general of the SHP at a congress in June 1988, under party leader Erdal İnönü.

His election as the party’s secretary general paved Baykal’s way to years of struggle to topple İnönü, the son of Turkey’s second president, İsmet İnönü, and a physics professor.

Baykal challenged İnönü in three congresses, two extraordinary and one regular, the last one being Jan. 27, 1992. İnönü was re-elected to the post with 516 votes to Baykal’s 486, leading Baykal to resign from the party and later join the CHP, which was reopened on Sept. 9, 1992, after the ban was lifted.

The CHP held a congress with the delegates of the 24th congress held in 1979. Baykal beat Erol Tuncer to become the party’s fourth leader in history, following Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, İnönü and Ecevit.

In the March 24, 1994, local elections, the SHP received 13.6 of the votes and the CHP received 4.6 percent. The SHP candidate in Ankara, Korel Göymen, lost the election to Melih Gökçek by 5,000 votes, while the CHP candidate Ali Dinçer received 30,000 votes. Gökçek never looked back and has been running, and ruining, the capital for over 20 years.

Baykal continued his way of politics after the SHP and the CHP merged under the latter’s flag in 1995, beating Murat Karayalçın for the leader’s post. Baykal insisted on early elections while the CHP was part of a coalition government with Tansu Çiller’s True Path Party (DYP).

In the Dec. 24, 1995, elections, Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) came first while Baykal’s CHP barely passed the 10 percent election threshold, wining 49 parliamentary seats with 10.5 percent of the votes.

Baykal once again forced an early election in 1998, when the CHP was supporting a minority government of three parties under Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz. That decision cost the party dearly, and after receiving 8.7 percent of the votes, the CHP was left out of the parliament for the first time since the foundation of the republic, except the post-1980 era when the party was banned. Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP) was the winner of the election.

Baykal was forced to retire in the face of such a major loss, and he did, but he was not prepared to be away for long.

Supporters of Baykal within the CHP forced yet another extraordinary congress on Nov. 1, 2000, that saw Baykal’s glorious return to the post following a 15-month hiatus.

Until Baykal was forced to retire again in May 10, 2010, following a sex tape scandal, he ran the party with an iron fist, forcing his opponents out of the party to strengthen his one-man rule. Many prominent politicians who were forced to leave the party and/or were expelled could not return until after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was elected.

Baykal will become the speaker of parliament as the oldest member, and is a strong candidate to be elected to the post.

At the age of 77, Baykal is trying to rise from the ashes as a “wiseman” of politics and enjoying being in the spotlight again. But judging from the past, I don’t think he will do any good to his party or Turkish politics.