Turkey’s main opposition party structurally unsound, says party's former VP
Turkey’s opposition went into the Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections with surprisingly high hopes, given the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s near total domination of the country’s media outlets and state institutions. This optimism was evoked arguably more than anyone else by Muharrem İnce, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) presidential candidate whose breathless 45-day tour of the country brought out tremendous crowds and made waves in Turkey’s social media sphere.
That optimism had turned to outright confusion by the end of election night. The opposition-endorsed election results monitoring site, Adil Seçim (Fair Election), had crashed, leaving the public with only state-run Anadolu Agency as a source of information on the count. CHP officials protested that the results were being manipulated and called on citizens to continue standing watch over ballot boxes, a call İnce repeated before dropping out of sight.
Before the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) had announced the results, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was already celebrating a first-round victory with 52 percent of the vote, flatly contradicting the CHP’s claim that the presidential election would “definitely” go on to a second round. İnce finally admitted defeat via a WhatsApp message to Fox TV anchorman İsmail Küçükkaya, triggering the crushing disappointment of yet another defeat to Turkey's leading AKP.
As the dust settled, the opposition was left looking for who was responsible for a shambolic election day performance, with many fingers pointing at CHP president Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and talk of İnce taking over the party’s leadership after eight years of stagnancy.
The first major mistake of the night had been the promotion of Adil Seçim, an external platform which CHP spokesperson Bülent Tezcan told the party’s supporters to follow before the election, CHP former Vice President Erdal Aksünger told Ahval.
When the platform broke down, it left opposition activists and voters in a state of confusion, forced to gather their information from the state news agency they had every reason to suspect was compromised.
That night Aksünger was inundated with phone calls conveying information on the vote from the moment the ballot boxes started opening, but found himself unable to reach headquarters.
“In the end the place these people need to go to cross check Anadolu Agency’s data was the CHP. But there were clearly problems there,” said Aksünger.
The failure of Adil Seçim was all the more troubling given the existence of the party’s own working monitoring system, which had been tried and tested in the last three elections.
“Meanwhile, even if we didn’t share this openly with the public, we were always in touch with the other parties and had reciprocal discussions on problematic ballots. So it was likely that, while this system was working at headquarters, cross checking and comparison issues arose because of problems with Adil Seçim,” Aksünger said.
Reports and images of alleged irregularities, including block voting, began to circulate on social media, and statements from CHP officials warning of manipulation by Anadolu and proclaiming that a second round looked certain increased the expectations and readiness of the party faithful.
Yet the party’s presidential candidate, the central figure for voters on the night, was left without and decision-making mechanism or the means to coordinate the party on election night, and had to rely on party headquarters for information and work according to Tezcan’s statements, said Aksünger.
In the end, without anything concrete to back up the party’s claims that a second round was certain, İnce had nothing left to do but concede defeat after Erdoğan declared himself the victor, and compounded the party’s disappointment in a speech the next day in which he admitted that the incumbent may have stolen votes, but not enough to swing the election.
“I don’t agree with that. He said here was a 10-million vote difference between İnce and Erdoğan, but to take it to the second round, the difference was only 1.3 million,” said Aksünger. “I mean, we have to think about the (four-party “Nation” electoral alliance led by the CHP) and add the votes of the other parties (who ran candidates in the first round but likely would have rallied behind İnce in a second.)”
The events of the night left the CHP’s large voter base, which had been enthused before the election and were ready to oppose irregularities or signs of cheating, were deeply disappointed by the confusion followed by such a meek concession of defeat.
Their disappointment and anger, however, does not start and end with the Jun. 24 elections, according to Aksünger. In fact, problems have been festering away in the party that have taken root far deeper and go back far longer.
“The CHP’s real problem, and this of course is tied to the leadership, but the actual problem is with the personnel who raise or bring down the leader,” Aksünger said. “The CHP is a party that needs to solve its strucural problems and work from a system based on merit as soon as possible.”
This would mean clearing a lot of dead weight from the party, including the deputies who have been granted seats in parliament time and again without taking the effort to build rapport with voters, without joining any parliamentary commissions or fighting for any causes, he added.
These are the type who try to hang on to their power by always choosing the winning side in power struggles with the party, Aksünger said, and Kılıçdaroğlu has suffered from the influence this kind of self-interested deputy has over the party.
Now CHP voters are crying out for a change, he said, and Muharrem İnce is one figure who has carried many party supporters’ hopes in that direction.
“Kılıçdaroğlu still gets a response from society and from the voter base ... but many people now are talking about the need for change,” said Aksünger.
If İnce puts himself forward as a candidate in the upcoming party congress, that would be a step towards such a change.
“If you ask me whether that change will happen, if the congress were held today, I'd say it would,” said Aksünger. “But in three months time? Who knows.”