Turkish opposition leader promises full social democracy

Turkish opposition leader promises full social democracy

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish opposition leader promises full social democracy

CHP will internalize universal social democratic values, party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tells the Daily News before leaving Turkey for Portugal to attend a meeting of Socialist International. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Denying the importance of recent intra-party conflicts, which resulted in the resignation of an MP, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has complained about the comparisons being made with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“The perception of democracy has changed in Turkey. When there is talk about democracy people think of the AKP, in which only the leader speaks and everybody else remains silent. However, the AKP is not a democratic party,” Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News.

He also stressed that it was only natural for every member to freely express their opinion within the party, adding that the CHP was the only party left in Turkey struggling for more democracy and freedoms. “We are alone in our struggle. We have no allies like trade unions, NGOs or universities. Rather, we receive support from Western civil society representatives,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that he believed all the debates within the party would take the CHP in the direction of universal social democracy.

What is the message you get from your constituency about the direction of the CHP?

What is expected from the people, as well as from intellectuals, is change. The CHP needs to change and reinvigorate, to internalize a universal rhetoric. It’s in that direction that we are working.

Change meets resistance. Is this how you explain the intra-party conflicts? Looking from the outside, the CHP gives the impression of an organization too busy with intra-party disagreements.

Resistance is in the nature of change. There is no intra-party conflict, but from time to time there are some differences in rhetorical language that come with daily political actualities. But there is a strong leap toward endorsing the rules of universal social democracy. There will always be discussions in the party, the opposite is not possible.

But at some stage different views need to lead to a unified, single rhetoric.

These discussions will precisely lead us to a unified rhetoric. We need an environment of discussion to reach that unified rhetoric. We are currently in that process, which is leading us to the rules envisaged by universal social democracy.

That sounds nice at the macro level, but when we go down to the micro level and talk about the terror issue, or the Kurdish issue, don’t you receive contradictory messages from your constituency? One side looks positively on Kurdish demands, while the other side worries about whether this will lead to the disintegration of the country? Are you not in the cross fire between these two trends?

The concern about the division of the country is widespread, not only among CHP supporters but also among the whole of society. This conviction is fed by the mistaken policies that are followed. As the CHP, we are careful not to endorse policies that are discriminatory. There are parties that are implementing policies based on ethnic identity and religious conscience. That’s why we said when we went to the east and the southeast: “We respect your ethnic identity and our solution is the most rational one.” We said that security policies could not solve the problem and proposed the establishment of a commission in Parliament, as well as a “wise men” group to work simultaneously, because the problem requires societal consensus.

Where does the CHP stand with regard to the demands of the Kurds?

On Kurdish education, for instance, we say that everybody should learn their mother tongue, but there should not be education in Kurdish because that will have a disintegrative effect on society.

How strong is the concern about the disintegration of the country? Some claim that the CHP’s constituency is far more self confident on those issues than the CHP itself.

Our constituency is self confident about itself and the country, but there are a number of factors that feed pessimism. Neither we nor our constituency has a favorable view on regional autonomy. When the issue is voiced, the worries of division are strengthened. Talk about removing “Turkish identity” from the Constitution also creates worries.

What exactly did you mean when you said you had “opened credit” on the peace process (the talks with the jailed leader of the PKK)?

We have opened credit with conditions. We told the government to give us information about the talks and not to engage in commitments that are unacceptable to the nation. The government has not accepted our path for a solution; it wants to follow another way. We tell them that if they really want the arms to be silenced then they should explain to us how they propose to do it. But they have not come back to us yet.

The CHP seems to be divided on that process as well.

There may be some different statements, but there is no division. The rhetoric of some of our friends went beyond its purpose, but I have warned them.

Where have you made a difference, since taking over the party?

I am the party leader who voiced the issue of removal of the 10 percent electoral threshold for the first time.

The political party law dating from the Sept. 12 coup period needs to change. So I said that we should change all the coup laws. Both of these things were rejected by the [Justice and Development Party] AKP, which is itself hiding behind the coup laws. I have said that the “special authority” courts are not providing adequate justice. The government first chose to hide behind these courts and then abolished them, changed their name, but said they would continue to consider the existing cases.

I said the path to democracy and freedoms passed from the media. I said we should introduce all the necessary legal amendments that would provide media freedom and we would support it. Turkey, however, has made a historic first during the AKP’s tenure, topping the list for the number of jailed journalists in the world.

I am the party leader who voiced in the world that one of Turkey’s fundamental problems was democracy and freedom. These are now being mentioned in all the reports of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, as well as NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders. This happened thanks to us.

What is the direction in which Kılıçdaroğlu wants to take the CHP?

Kılıçdaroğlu will take the party wherever universal social democracy will take it.

So you do accept that the CHP, in the eyes of many, was a party that closed its doors to the Kurds, Alevis, and non–Muslim minorities?

This has completely changed. The prime minister used to say: “Kılıçdaroglu cannot go beyond Sivas.” But we are going to all the provinces in Turkey. It is the prime minister who now represents the status quo, he has closed the doors to freedoms and change. We want change and freedoms and he is the one resisting it. We want a contemporary Constitution, but he does not want this. All he wants is to seek how he can hold on to the powers he has as prime minister when he becomes president.

The former CHP administration was criticized by leaving all international platforms to the AKP. What has been your policy of establishing contacts with foreign interlocutors?

This is very important to me. I became deputy head of the Socialist International. The CHP is getting reorganized in Strasbourg, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt, the Netherlands, and in many other places. My friends will make openings [on Sunday] in nine different places in Germany. We want to build a more healthy and consistent relationship with the German Social Democratic party. Our women and youth branches have already started to forge stronger ties with them. I will also go to London in mid-February, to a meeting of the U.K. Labour Party, where I’ll be the only foreign speaker.

We are the only party to voice in international platforms the fact that having jailed journalists is not a bright record for Turkey. The reason why the prime minister repeatedly says “you go abroad and talk against Turkey” is because he is disturbed that we are voicing his unlawful, anti-democratic policies.

What is the perception of the CHP in the outside world?

There was a negative perception, but that perception has changed to a large degree. There is now the perception that we are a social democratic party in the Western and modern sense.

What is the roadmap of the CHP for the upcoming elections.

We have endorsed a strategy for the local elections and we are implementing it step by step. We want to announce our candidates early in places where we do not hold the municipalities, so that they can start working early. The government is using all the organs of the state to put pressure on CHP municipalities.

We also have the constitutional process. We really want a constitution based on freedoms and we are genuinely contributing to it. We don’t find it useful that the prime minister has set a deadline for March – the talks need to be matured in time.

According to public polls, there has not been much of a change in the level of support for the CHP.

I am not that pessimistic. But we have the following deficit: The social democratic parties across the world all act together with the trade unions, but the trade unions were terminated in Turkey. Social democratic parties act with strong civil society institutions, but where are these in Turkey? Social democratic parties move with universities that favor independent and free contemporary policies, but where are these in Turkey? We are left as the only ones favoring more freedoms in Turkey.

So you say you have no allies.

To a great extent we have no allies. Show me an ally. We are fighting alone right now.

In such circumstances do you assume that you won’t be able to win the elections?

We know we have a long and bumpy road ahead. But right now we are instead receiving support from the West; from its civil society and media.

So is your new ally the West?

Not in term of states. But think tanks, people in science, and universities all subscribe to what we say. Governments prefer not to see Turkey’s democratic deficit because of certain interests.

Who is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu?

Born in 1948 in Tunceli, Kılıçdaroğlu completed his Bachelor’s degree at the Ankara Economic and Commercial Sciences Academy. He started his career in the Ministry of Finance in 1971. Following many positions in the ministry, he became deputy director general of the General Directorate of Revenues.

Kılıçdaroğlu was appointed to the Social Security Organization for Artisans and the Self-Employed (Bağ-Kur) in 1991, where he acted as the director general. He began to work for the Social Security Organization (SSK) in 1992, and later took office as the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

In 1994, he was presented with the “Bureaucrat of the Year” award by Economic Trend magazine.
Following his retirement in 1999, Kılıçdaroğlu was elected to be an Istanbul MP for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2002. While serving in the party’s Central Executive Board, Kılıçdaroğlu was once again elected as an Istanbul MP in 2007. He acted as the parliamentary group’s vice president until he was elected head of the CHP on May 22, 2010.