Will the new CHP masjid bring in conservative votes?

Will the new CHP masjid bring in conservative votes?

The main opposition party headquarters in Ankara now has a masjid, a sign of the party’s changing mentality and the influence of the new individuals in the party’s direction.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), tired of being beaten by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in every election since 2002, has been seeking a new route under its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to woo voters.

Kılıçdaroğlu preferred to do this by bringing in conservative and right-wing people to the party, which has claimed to be a social democrat/democratic leftist party since the early 1970s. His move has been a source of complaint among many party members, who argue the party was “steering to the right and moving away from its fundamental values.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s decision to nominate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, an academic and former chair of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (IOC), in the presidential elections last August also created rifts in the party, with a group of lawmakers refusing to support the party’s candidate.

But Kılıçdaroğlu did not back down and invited more people to the party during the party congress held weeks after the election.

One of those people was Mehmet Bekaroğlu, a former lawmaker from the ranks of Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) member, who later continued his political career in the Virtue Party (FP) and the Felicity Party (SP), all representatives of Erbakan’s Islamist-nationalist policy “National View.” He later joined the conservative-oriented People’s Voice Party (HSP), founded by Numan Kurtulmuş. Kurtulmuş later left the party and joined the AKP, and currently holds a deputy prime minister’s seat, and the party dissolved itself.

Following the CHP congress, Kılıçdaroğlu appointed Bekaroğlu as the deputy leader in charge of public relations. He was the one behind the decision to open a masjid at party headquarters, citing demand.
“There was a demand from party members and visitors for such a place, and the masjid has been opened to meet that demand,” Bekaroğlu was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera Türk’s website yesterday.

There may be such demand, and it should be met, but considering that there already is a mosque located just a couple of hundred meters away from the CHP headquarters, the move to pen a masjid is nothing more than a public relations move by Bekaroğlu. The move looks like the experienced politician’s way of saying “I’m here,” maybe his way of challenging the party elite.

The trouble in the CHP became obvious when lawmaker Emine Ülker Tarhan, known for her staunch secular and nationalist views, resigned from the party last week. And yesterday, the Central Executive Committee (MYK) launched the process to expel lawmaker Süheyl Batum, another nationalist-leaning politician who was vocal about his criticism against the party administration, from the CHP.

The CHP in the past promoted itself as the “sole legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, and failed to pass the 10 percent election threshold in the 1999 elections. It has lost every general and local election since 2002 against the AKP, and failed to prevent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from becoming the country’s first popularly-elected president. CHP members slammed the AKP for being “religion mongers,” and lost an election, accused it of “polarizing the citizens,” and lost, accused Erdoğan and senior party members of “corruption and theft,” and lost again.

What the CHP did not really try was trying to reach the voters with its own projects, presenting them a vision for the country’s future, instead of always being on the defensive against what the AKP is doing. Instead of giving clear messages on the country’s vital problems, such as the Kurdish issue, the demands of Alevis, the Syrian refugees etc., the CHP temporized. Some CHP lawmakers supported the government’s Kurdish peace bid, while others slammed “the bid of treason,” leaving it to the citizens to decide which one is the party’s policy.  

Cheap public relations moves, such as opening a masjid at the party headquarters, will not only fail to bring in conservative votes, but also drive away the CHP’s current voters.

In the current situation, there is no reason to think that the main opposition is a solid contender to win next summer’s general elections.