Zülfikar Doğan
Jul 05 2018

CHP’s future uncertain after call for party convention

The future of the leadership of the opposition Republic People’s Party (CHP) following the June 24th presidential and parliamentary elections is far from clear amid a suggestion for an extraordinary convention to challenge the party’s leadership. 

Government-owned newspapers are reporting on the deepening rift between CHP party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and former presidential candidate Muharrem İnce. Earlier this week, İnce suggested to Kılıçdaroğlu that there should be a snap convention to make him party chair.

Tensions increased in the opposition party after the June 24 snap elections. The secularist CHP nominated Ince to challenge the 16-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the helm. The hope was that Erdoğan would fail to secure 50 percent of the vote. If this were to happen, there would have been a second voting round, and voters that supported opposition parties could rally behind Ince. But Erdoğan received 52.59 percent of the votes and Ince got 30.64 percent of the vote.

The results show that the CHP itself didn’t see gains in the parliamentary elections, winning only 22.65 percent of the vote. The difference between votes received by Ince and the CHP was 9 percent. This gap was wider in places that have been historically known as CHP strongholds (Izmir, a district in Ankara, Eskişehir, Thrace, and Istanbul among others). It’s been suggested that one of the main reasons for this is the nomination of conservative candidates for deputies put forward by the CHP leadership. When the candidates were announced, they were met with a negative response. If this stays the same, then the CHP could lose municipalities that it currently holds in the local elections in March 2019. İnce, on the other hand, could use his momentum to help change the status quo.

İnce’s suggestion for a snap convention is a sign that he wants to take advantage of his public popularity. In the run-up to the June 24 elections, Ince galvanized support beyond CHP’s voter base, something that previous leaders in the CHP have not been able to do. For the first time in a long time, the CHP secured more than 30 percent of the votes with its own candidate, a first in 41 years.

Ince’s suggestion also indicates that he is trying to beat Kılıçdaroğlu to the punch. In the 2004 local elections, Mustafa Sarıgül was gaining momentum in the CHP. Sarıgül was a popular major in Istanbul’s Şişli district between 1999 and 2014. But his popularity threatened CHP leadership and former party leader Deniz Baykal called for a snap convention on January 29, 2005. This stopped Sarıgül from rising further in the CHP ranks.

Kılıçdaroğlu rejected Ince’s suggestion for him to step down by saying, "There's no extraordinary convention on the agenda. Was it wrong to nominate İnce as a candidate, form the People’s Alliance with the Good Party so save us from being pushed out of the elections?"

The CHP’s alliance was part of Kılıçdaroğlu’s opening up to the right end of the political spectrum, a strategy that began with former party leader Deniz Baykal. After Erdoğan announced the snap parliamentary and presidential elections in April, the CHP announced its alliance with newly formed, right-of-center party Good Party. Kılıçdaroğlu also announced the nomination of conservatives such as Abdüllahtif Şener for members of parliament. The founder of the Good Party was from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a far-right party in an alliance with the ruling AKP. There were other initiatives by CHP leadership in the past to get closer to the right, but they did not lead anywhere. Given the current political climate, initiatives like this like this took the CHP electorate for granted.

We now see that the Good Party was unable to take votes away from the AKP or the MHP, but that it took votes away from the CHP in big cities in the Aegean and Thrace regions. Almost everything that I wrote a couple of months back in my article on who would benefit from the Good Party came true. We should be asking if the alliance with the Good Party is actually an AKP-Erdoğan project as an alternative to the MHP.

The CHP's election campaigns in 2015 and the most recent elections were full of projects and promises. The AKP has copied and implemented most of them. So why hasn't the CHP reaped the benefits in helping create the new Turkey? Even though what people are saying in the party is new, concrete, and compelling, the people in leadership positions have remained the same. And this has not been met with excitement from society.

Someone from Kılıçdaroğlu's staff spoke with Ahval News on the condition of anonymity about how developments within the party have been covered in the media. Our source referred to the chaotic nature in which votes were counted by the Fair Election Platform, which was an electoral watchdog formed with the support of opposition parties. Throughout the elections, İnce listened to what the platform said.

“As you'll remember, there was a speech that the elections would go onto a second round, raising expectations and excitement. And then morale was destroyed when he said it was over. He was ripped to shreds in the media. At this point, Muharrem İnce was put on the target board in both the government and opposition media. It's necessary to correctly read and interpret why even TRT, who ignored İnce and the CHP throughout the campaign, broadcasts CHP and its party leaders for hours on end. Why? This is not right in the name of honesty and transparency in the political fight. But, this is not a conflict between İnce and Kılıçdaroğlu.”

Although recent indicators paint a bleak picture of Turkey's economy, government media has been focused on developments within the CHP.  The incumbent AKP are hanging onto this as a lifesaver to distract the public from the country’s economic woes.

Inflation hit a 15-year high climbing 15.39% in June. The amount of money in circulation – which increased by 30 billion TL in 5.5 months to 160 billion TL in mid-June before the elections – indicates overprinting of banknotes. Automobile sales fell by 39% in June. The Real Sector Confidence Index released by the central bank in June conveys heavy pessimism and hopelessness, with the ratio of pessimists to optimists is three times higher in their expectations for the next three and 12 months.

Even if the CHP’s extraordinary congress is not attended, then at least it will meet the demands of its party members. İnce's energy needs to be directed at the leadership in the party and organization - otherwise, the nomination process in the local elections could deepen the cracks in the party, and breaking Ince’s momentum could be met with severe losses. 

It will be a challenge to get the more than 600 signatures from CHP’s delegates needed for a snap convention. It is now up for debate as to whether or not this will happen and whether or not İnce’s fate will be similar to that of Sarıgül.

While all these developments are taking place, there does not seem to be any other choice with regards to Muharrem İnce but establishing a new party to foster the hope felt among the public.