Attack on CHP leader worrying for Turkey

Attack on CHP leader worrying for Turkey

It is very unfortunate and worrying for Turkey and Turkish politics to observe a mass physical attack against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), in Çubuk district of Ankara during the funeral of a soldier who was martyred by the PKK on April 19. The footage of the attack reveals that Kılıçdaroğlu nearly escaped lynch by a nationalist group obviously in a rage. 

One thing is certain: This attack is a result of long-standing polarization in Turkish politics. In a climate in which elections followed elections and political and social tension were unprecedentedly escalated by a very harsh language, such attacks on politicians are inescapable. 

Our memories are still very fresh concerning the latest pre-election campaign ahead of the March 31 local polls. Both Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) officials had lashed out at the CHP and its leader for engaging with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a party they regard as the political wing of the PKK. 

For months, Kılıçdaroğlu was accused of partnering with terrorists and supporting the PKK by the most senior officials from the AKP and the MHP. It’s, therefore, time for all politicians responsible to abandon this very divisive language.

This attack comes two days after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested the formation of the “Alliance of Turkey” and called for cooling the “hot iron” and leaving political debates behind. The attack on the main opposition leader, however, shows the de-escalation of tension will take time if a genuine reconciliation process is not launched immediately.

What will the YSK’s decision on the Istanbul polls be?

This bitter incident took place just a day before Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) is expected to start deliberations on the extraordinary appeals by the AKP and the MHP for the annulment and, therefore, the renewal of the Istanbul municipal elections.

As can be recalled, the AKP submitted its appeal on April 16, just a day before the YSK’s Istanbul branch handed over the credential to Ekrem İmamoğlu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as the winner of the elections in Turkey’s largest city.

In a statement on April 18, AKP chairman and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed out that the legal process was still ongoing and that it will be over for the AKP when the YSK will put an end to it. It was perhaps because of this fact that Erdoğan did not shake hands with İmamoğlu in their first encounter on April 19 during the funeral of a businessman in Istanbul.

Over the weekend, MHP chairman Devlet Bahçeli seemed to be much more steadfast in calling on the YSK to conduct its duty and decide on redoing the elections, as the Istanbul polls were an issue of “national survival.”

(It was also striking to hear open and loud criticism from Bahçeli against Erdoğan’s call for setting up “the Alliance of Turkey” over matters concerning national issues. The implications of Bahçeli’s words on the future of the AKP-MHP partnership, dubbed the People’s Alliance, will remain to be seen.) 

Along with a number of alleged irregularities, the AKP’s appeal claims that around 20,000 ineligible voters participated in the polls and that that can have an impact on the results as the difference between İmamoğlu and the AKP’s Binali Yıldırım is less than 14,000. The AKP also detected scores of people with alleged links to FETÖ had been appointed as members of the balloting committees.

The CHP, however, says that there were legal opportunities for the AKP to raise objections when the voters’ lists were posted by the YSK before the elections and that none of the complaints submitted by the ruling party will affect the election results.

Then, the AKP submitted an additional appeal to the YSK over the weekend suggesting that they have detected more than 14,000 voters who they claim are ineligible to vote because they were dismissed from civil service through decree laws in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt.

This is particularly interesting because there is no law in Turkey that bans these said people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. CHP spokesmen immediately reacted against the move by the AKP, while some legal experts also underlined its illegality.

However, what makes this latest move by the AKP much more worrying is the fact that the YSK prevented a number of elected mayors from taking offices on the grounds that they were dismissed from civil service through similar decree laws in the past. Legal experts, the CHP and even the Council of Europe described the YSK’s move as a breach of democratic right to elect and to be elected.

Despite insistent appeals by the AKP, few in Ankara think that the Istanbul polls will be renewed due to both legal and political reasons. Not only because the AKP’s appeal is weak and short of substantial evidence. Assessments at the AKP headquarters suggest a second – and perhaps harsher – defeat in Istanbul should the polls be renewed.

Yet, the YSK’s verdict on elected mayors has sparked concerns over its potential verdict on the Istanbul polls. The election watchdog’s interpretation of the appeals by the AKP and the MHP for Istanbul will be decisive in terms of the safety and fairness of future polls in Turkey as well.

Serkan Demirtaş,