Turkey’s main opposition says it will lay out path to power at convention

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is set to hold its annual convention on Saturday and Sunday, in which party members say they will lay out a path to government and a leadership election will be held.

The party has been working on a manifesto called the “Roadmap to the March to Government”, which CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will present during the convention.

The convention will be held at an open-air space at Bilkent University in Ankara, and only 1,357 delegates will be allowed to attend due precautions over the COVID-19 coronavirus. Attendees will also include CHP members of parliament, mayors, candidates for party leader, and the caucus, with a total capacity of 1,500.

The convention will adhere to strict social distancing rules, and on Saturday the leader of the party will be elected. It is almost certain that Kılıçdaroğlu will be re-elected. A strong contender, Muharrem İnce, who ran as CHP’s presidential candidate in 2018, announced that he would not run for the post.

A mere two days before the convention, three party members announced their candidacies: Former deputy from southern Mersin province Aytuğ Atıcı; honorary convention member Tolga Yarman; and former deputy and current caucus member İlhan Cihaner, who is running under the left-leaning We Are The Future group within the party.

In his announcement for his bid for party chairman, Cihaner maintained that the CHP must position itself squarely on the left, cooperate with other left-wing opposition groups, take part in street-level opposition, and reflect the party’s grassroots demands and energy.

Some say Cihaner is in contact with İnce, and the two will prepare a joint list of candidates for the caucus. Yet another rumour is that the main goal of İnce and Cihaner will be to get as many people elected to the caucus as possible to pose intra-party opposition and weaken Kılıçdaroğlu’s dominance over the party.

Last year’s convention on the party charter eased the conditions to run for leader. Candidates now require the votes of five percent of delegates to run - 68 signatures - lowered from the previous requirement of 25 percent.

Yet, it is still unclear whether all three challengers can find enough signatures. In the district and provincial conventions, the central committee and Kılıçdaroğlu asked chapter conventions to run with single candidates, to avoid the impression of intra-party dispute. Save for a few provinces and districts, delegates were elected in accordance with the pro-Kılıçdaroğlu party headquarters for the most part.

It is said that Cihaner has announced his candidacy after securing the signatures. Meanwhile, Atıcı will probably find enough signatures as he has strong ties with the base of the party.

Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu has been working on his convention address for a while. The speech will also double as a manifesto for the general elections, which are scheduled for 2023 but widely expected to be held sooner.

The manifesto is said to focus on solutions for Turkey’s democratic decline, issues with the rule of law, problems faced by young people and women, as well as the economy. The speech will also outline the opposition Millet (“Nation”) Alliance’s platform, as CHP is its biggest constituent.

On Sunday, the CHP’s top administrative and policy-making bodies, the caucus and disciplinary board with 52 members in total, and the science, administration and culture platform with eight members, will be elected.

Kılıçdaroğlu will implement radical changes in the party’s central committee after the caucus is elected, rumours say.

Former CHP deputy chairman Bülent Tezcan had been forced to resign upon reaction from the party base because he could not manage the election night process on June 24, 2018, when Turkey held its most recent elections for the presidency and parliament. Tezcan is now lobbying hard to get back into the caucus, but Kılıçdaroğlu is said to not favour him.

Veterans like Seyit Torun, Veli Ağbaba and Aykut Erdoğdu may be on the chopping block, and Kılıçdaroğlu may implement a youth and women’s quota to energise the caucus and central committee.

On the other hand, some say the CHP leader has made similar promises before, and that the quotas were ignored. Some believe Kılıçdaroğlu will lean the party further to the right in a bid to maintain the Millet Alliance, which also consists of former interior minister Meral Akşener’s centre-right Good Party, the centre-right conservative Democrat Party, and the Islamist-conservative Felicity Party.

So, the convention is not just important to just show that the CHP can be an alternative to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and far-right Nationalist Movement Party alliance, but to also create hope among women and young people across the nation.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.