Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is going through more dire straits these days that could result in more splits and even an extraordinary congress that would put Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership to the test.
When he took office in 2010 from Deniz Baykal, who resigned after the leakage of an illegally recorded, alleged sex tape, Kılıçdaroğlu had promised to transform the party into a standard social democratic one. He adopted an anti-militarist rhetoric underlining human rights, closer links with the European Union and an approach to the Kurdish issue that was focused on a political solution, unlike the previous decade’s CHP, which was stuffed with politicians of a former generation with strong secularist and etatist approaches.
That was not so easy. With the political scene dominated by the conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, which got half the votes in the 2011 elections, Kılıçdaroğlu had to keep the secular reflexes alive while trying to promote democratic ones. That balance-seeking approach was reflected by his party group in parliament.
Mainstream political parties are not expected to be homogenous; they are rather an umbrella under which similar, but not the same, tendencies can find a place. But the CHP, as it is now, is such a big umbrella that it has become more difficult to carry it, especially when the wind starts to get strong. Trying to provide an anti-AK Parti platform to a variety of opposing politicians from far-leftists to nationalists, Kılıçdaroğlu has been experiencing difficulties at a time when the government has launched an ambitious project in search of a political solution to the Kurdish problem and as the country is approaching a critical presidential election next year amid efforts to write a new constitution.
With the debate in parliament heating up on the definition of Turkish citizenship and with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, seeking to expunge the word “Turk” from the Constitution if the word “Kurd” is not mentioned with some sympathy from within the AK Parti, the situation is causing cracks within the CHP.
This article was published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Jan. 29, 2013.
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2.