Turkey’s main opposition should hold election for new leader, MP says

Turkey’s secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) should hold an election for a new leader and put forward new policies if it is to mount a serious electoral challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, İlhan Cihaner, a prominent left-wing member of the party said in an interview.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is the sole candidate for re-election as CHP leader at its annual conference at the end of March, despite his party having lost four parliamentary elections, two presidential elections and two referendums since he took over in 2010. Across the country, forthcoming elections for many district and provincial positions within the party are also being held uncontested.

“Of course, single-candidate congresses are wrong in terms of intra-party democracy. If only there were competition, a race, then these congresses could be held with enthusiasm,” Cihaner told Ahval in an interview.

The party conference, on March 28-29, should be a place for the party to re-evaluate its identity and place in Turkish politics.

“It is important to pave the way for the upcoming congress to provide an opportunity for change and transformation,” said Cihaner, a member of parliament for the western province of Denizli.

“Congresses are not only processes through which party leaders are chosen. The transformation of the party, its ideology, goals, messages to the public, manifestos, promises, discussion of what it will enact when in power, putting forth programmes, are matters that everyone should be discussing,” he said.

Despite losing a string of elections, Kılıçdaroğlu has fended off a series of challenges to his leadership of the CHP, a party set up by the nation’s secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923 and which last won a general election in 1977. The CHP has had a secular social democrat outlook since the 1970s and has been the main opposition since Erdoğan’s Islamists came to power in 2002.

Cihaner said he was waiting for the results of the CHP district and provincial meetings before deciding whether to mount a challenge to become party leader.

“There are requests for my leadership from friends. They want me to take the step. I am looking at it and evaluating it,” he said.

Despite its poor record in general elections, the party did win control of five of the country’s six biggest cities in mayoral elections from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) last year through alliances with other opposition parties.

But Cihaner said the pact with opposition nationalist and Islamist parties had come at a cost and had hampered the CHP’s efforts to challenge the ruling party’s conservative discourse and win over its supporters.

“Increasing votes and receiving the support of the conservative segment by aligning with existing conservative parties and taking on the conservative discourse is not possible,” he said.

That was why support for the CHP was stuck at around 25 percent, he said, not enough to win a parliamentary or presidential election, which are not due until 2023, but could be held early.

The CHP’s alliance with the opposition nationalist Good Party, Cihaner said, meant it was obliged to back a parliamentary motion to deploy troops in neighbouring Syria, while its pact with the Islamist opposition Felicity Party meant the CHP was unable to defend its founding principle of secularism.

That meant the CHP was only allowed to speak out “in a realm left and allowed for by the ruling AKP,” he said. “If we aim to be the party in power and we believe in our principles and values, then we must approach our citizens by way of these values. We must struggle for these principles and values.”

Cihaner also criticised the current state of the judiciary, and said the AKP had taken it over since removing the followers of its former ally, Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Turkish Islamist preacher blamed for a 2016 failed military coup.

“The AKP today has leaned towards purging the judiciary of Fethullahists,” Cihaner said, "On the other hand, using this purge as an excuse, the AKP has chosen to create its own judiciary.”

Since the failed putsch, almost 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed from their jobs for links to the secretive group the government says infiltrated state institutions, particularly the judiciary, police force and military, in an attempt to grab power from within.

Turkey is ranked 109th out of 126 countries according to the 2019 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.

“There are requests for my leadership from friends [in the CHP]. They want me to take a step. I am looking and evaluating,’’ the CHP lawmaker said.


© Ahval English

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

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