Two conventions, two ways of politics
Turkey’s two biggest political parties will hold conventions a week apart to renew their top officials, but there are major differences in the way they are going about conducting them.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is set to decide on the figure to succeed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was elected the country’s next president on Aug. 10. The convention to be held on Aug. 27 will decide who will get the leader’s and prime minister’s post after Erdoğan, who held both posts for over 10 years without any major challenge within or outside the party.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on the other hand, will convene its convention on Sept. 5 following the outcry within the party after its failure at the presidential election.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, jointly nominated by the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), received 38.5 percent of the votes in the Aug. 10 election, 13 percent less than Erdoğan’s winning result and well below the total votes that the CHP and the MHP received in the March 30 local polls.
The ruling party and the main opposition party have their own way of deciding on the new leadership. While the AKP does it discreetly, discussing names behind closed doors and not allowing a fair race between candidates, the CHP’s way is exactly the opposite, debating every issue publicly – maybe too publicly – via the media.
Muharrem İnce, a popular CHP lawmaker from the northwestern province of Yalova, announced earlier this week that he would run against party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, accusing him of failing to reach voters and of undermining the party’s potential. Another lawmaker, Emine Ülker Tarhan, told reporters that she was “under pressure from party members” to run for the post.
Kılıçdaroğlu welcomed the challenges, did not shy away from defending his policies, and stood behind his decision to nominate İhsanoğlu.
“The decision to hold a convention aims not for breakups but for unity and becoming stronger together,” he said. “Freedom of expression is a must in democracies. Every single idea within the party is valuable to me.”
While Kılıçdaroğlu urged a productive debate within the main opposition party, Erdoğan made it clear that he would not allow such attempts and urged all his party fellows to “be on alert against efforts to break their unity and brotherhood and not to fall into traps” that would create cracks within the party.
The president-elect often says all decision in the party are taken with a mechanism consisting of “participation, consultation and collective minds.” Just like the process for nominating a candidate for presidency, Erdoğan has been holding closed-door meetings with party members, taking their opinions about the next party leader.
In an Aug. 11 meeting of the AKP’s highest decision-making body, the Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK), Erdoğan asked party members their preferences for both party chairman and prime minister. All members submitted the name of a single nominee in a closed envelope. He held similar meeting with the party’s provincial chairs, mayors, lawmakers, but senior party members openly said the next party leader would be whoever Erdoğan picked.
Erdoğan said last week that there would be only one candidate at the convention, and that name is expected to be announced today. He strictly warned against attempts to present another candidate.
Speaking at a party meeting on Aug. 14, Erdoğan said chasing after personal ambitions and competing for positions were “acts of treachery” and called on his colleagues not to fall into this trap.
“We will go through a very intense test to this end in the following two weeks,” he said, urging party members not to communicate through the media. “Whenever one has something to say, he or she can do it in our relevant bodies.”
The ruling party decides its next leader, hence the party’s next prime minister, behind closed doors, not allowing any real debate on the issue. The main opposition party discusses even its most discreet issues publicly, involuntarily assisting the image that the CHP is nothing more than a party of inner fights.
Having different voices within the party is what makes a political party strong. A party that relies on a single person is doomed to fail after he departs.
*Note: The heavy political agenda should not make us forget that 49 employees of the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz and two babies, are now in their 71st day as hostages at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group of murderers who do not hesitate to behead people. The next prime minister will probably have a say on that.