Turkey’s opposition at existential crossroads
Imagine Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s nominee for the Presidency of the United States in the 2012 elections, paying a visit to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and both smiling to the cameras together. This is what I tried to picture when a parliamentary delegation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) paid a visit to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 7 in his headquarters in Damascus. In this way, the CHP was able to showcase its opposition to the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Syria policy, even though it helped advance al-Assad’s propaganda and depicted ambivalence on Turkey’s foreign policy.
It is not only in foreign policy that the main opposition party’s electoral concerns outweigh its responsibilities on a nonpartisan issue. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu initially lent support to the ongoing peace talks between government representatives and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. Following a CHP deputy’s infuriating remarks that Turkish nationality and Kurdish ethnicity are not equal, Kılıçdaroğlu only mildly and covertly criticized her. On top of this, former CHP leader Deniz Baykal urged the party to oppose the peace process. Consequently Kılıçdaroğlu made a U-turn from his initial position, now criticizing the government for sitting at the same table with Öcalan.
Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is another assailant of the ongoing peace process. He accuses the government of preparing the ground for the division of the country and shaking Turkey’s foundations. His antagonism peaked last week when MHP supporters chanted the slogan, “Tell us to fight, we will fight; Tell us to die, we will die,” during a rally. Bahçeli told them that the time to act would come.
Both parties’ stance on the Kurdish question is mainly due to their nationalist - lately so-called neo-nationalist - ideology. However, being a supra-political issue by nature, the Kurdish question requires a supra-political approach. It needs to cut across all political boundaries and it must be handled as a state policy. In the Northern Ireland peace process, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s famous motto “if you want to resolve a conflict, it is your enemies to whom you should talk” was absorbed not only by the government. Opposition parties also embraced the process, reflecting a post-nationalist ethos. This bipartisanship enabled the British government to act without electoral concerns.
Turkey’s paradigm is shifting. Solving the Kurdish question and drafting its first civilian Constitution will fundamentally transform the country’s political landscape for the foreseeable future. Excluding themselves from this historic, transformative process would however, not only be self-destructive for the opposition parties, it would also have a seriously destructive effect on Turkey. Both opposition leaders need to be urgently warned that it is their primary national responsibility to transcend the nationalist ethos and side with both the AKP and history in this national cause.