Turkey’s opposition CHP and HDP to seek allies at party congresses

Turkey’s two most popular opposition parties, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) plan to lay out strategies at their party congresses this month to foster alliances to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the biggest opposition party, the CHP, looks set to have a straightforward run at the congress since he has forced out his rivals and, to a large extent, controls the make-up of provincial and district administrations. This, despite having lost four general elections since he became party leader in 2010.

The latest amendments to the party constitution will also grant Kılıçdaroğlu the authority to form the party’s top executive board from its parliamentary party.

But what really matters from the congress will be the moves the CHP leader makes to prepare his party and the opposition Nation Alliance it leads to become a serious candidate to take power in the next round of elections, which are currently scheduled for 2023.

The main opposition party has signalled that it will take a harder opposition line after the congress, and part of that is likely to involve its Kurdish Report, an investigation that is soon to be shared with the public on the government’s policies in the mainly Kurdish southeast since the breakdown of a peace process in 2015.

Security forces used tank and artillery fire against insurgents from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who had attempted to take control of urban areas. Government policy also led to a broad crackdown on the Kurdish political movement, with leading politicians from the HDP accused of PKK links and jailed, and many municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish party in elections taken over by government appointees.

Besides the Kurdish Report, the CHP is preparing a strategy on democratic alliances that it hopes can benefit from the formation of two new political parties by rebels from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Kılıçdaroğlu has faced criticism for pulling the CHP to the right, but he believes this policy will be vindicated if his party is able to form a broad coalition with the two new parties.

Unlike the CHP, the HDP’s party congress could lead to a successful leadership challenge to co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli. Whether this takes place or not, the party will review plans to rebrand to appeal to a broader voter base across Turkey, not just in areas with large Kurdish populations, and strategies to form alliances with other parties.

The HDP’s parliamentary party leader, Saruhan Oluç, told reporters this week  that the party’s congress would focus on forming plans to capitalise on what he said was broad public dissatisfaction with the executive presidential system, which transferred many important powers from parliament to Erdoğan after it was inaugurated in 2018.

Erdoğan and the AKP said the new system would streamline governance in Turkey and make it easier to implement necessary reforms, but his critics say it amounted to a power grab. The country’s economy has performed poorly since the new system was inaugurated, and recent polls have suggested that even AKP voters are disgruntled.

Nevertheless, Oluç said, Erdoğan is very unlikely to step back from the presidential system since he knows there is every chance this would spell the end for his political career.

This leaves the HDP anticipating running against Erdoğan at the height of his presidential powers, whether the elections take place as scheduled in 2023 or sooner, and Oluç said his party would be receptive to campaigning for a unity candidate with other opposition parties, but also for broader cooperation in the coming period.

Thus, Oluç said, the Future Party, which the former AKP prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, founded in December, has been invited to the HDP’s congress, as will be the party planned by another AKP renegade, the former deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, if it has been founded by Feb. 23.

This is part of the HDP’s drive to reach out to a broader range of Turkish and regional political groups than the Kurdish populations it had focused on in the past, Oluç said.

The HDP lawmaker’s statements show that, while the opposition CHP’s main strategy is to focus on gathering support for the Nation Alliance from right wing parties, there is still plenty of scope for informal cooperation between the pair.