Turkey’s political Left needs a ‘Blair moment’
As the people of Turkey, we fought, we criticized, we loved, we supported and in the end we reconciled with what the center right AK Party has given to Turkey
I welcomed the decision of the Turkish main opposition parties to come together and work on a joint candidate for the presidential elections to beat the AK Party candidate, whose name is not officially announced yet. This means the opposition parties have been working on some project together, and especially the left wing main opposition party had another idea than to merely attack the governing AK Party as a policy. However, the name of the joint candidate of the main opposition parties revealed many clues for the Turkey pundits to help them understand where the Turkish political scene is heading.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have formally announced Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who served as Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC) between 2005 and 2014, as their joint presidential candidate. I have been writing about the major shift in the Turkish political scene in the last few years. CHP partly reversed its ideological position in the Turkish political scene with this right wing candidate compared to just seven years ago and made an explicit statement about reaching out to right-wing voters.
There are many viable reasons for the rise of the political right in the elections. Any political party in a democracy, after serving for three terms in a row, would have its votes wear off. The electoral victory AK Party has been enjoying undeniably has much to do with their performance in governance, ability to attract foreign investment and stable economy. The financial situation means a lot for all voters. However, sociology dominates the politics in Turkey today. The most important factor for the AK Party victory has been the increasing ideological votes of the political right wing in Turkey, not the ability of the politicians. While this percentage was around 40-45% the last decade, today the ideological right wing votes rose up to minimum 60-65%. Turkish political left not only suffered from rapidly melting shares of the votes, but also a decaying ideology in many places. The civil wars, decades long dictatorial regimes and the inequalities the communist Baath Party caused in the Arab world also had an impact on the Turkish public. This, in return pushed the Turkish left wing parties seek the approval of the center right electorate. Thus, here we are with the Turkish main opposition party CHP, sending a right wing candidate to presidential elections to represent the party.
As the people of Turkey, we fought, we criticized, we loved, we supported and in the end we reconciled with what the center right AK Party has given to TurkeyCeylan Ozbudak
This is not the first time the left wing political parties are embracing right wing strategies to gather more votes. CHP worked with the Islamic scholar Yaşar Nuri Öztürk in 2002 elections, transferred the renowned right wing voice İlhan Kesici in 2007, Sinan Aygün in 2011. This year in the local elections, CHP teamed up Mansur Yavaş, a former right wing nationalist party MHP member to run against the Ankara mayor Melih Gökçek. Yet, these efforts alone did not attract as much votes as the CHP was hoping. For the center right electorate, all pieces were not in place. Painting a tiger grey does not make it an elephant. So CHP kept shifting to center right. The party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu hired a right wing consultant for himself. CHP women’s branch distributed headscarves to women in front of some mosques, even the new cadres agreed to support the decision of lifting the hijab ban in Turkish governmental institutions, including the parliament. Was it only CHP, who moved to center right in Turkey? BDP, the strictly left wing party known to be backing the Kurdish separatist movement in the South East Turkey also used tactics to paint a portrait of shifting to center right. BDP members started using a language, which is much more respectful towards religion and started appearing in religious gatherings and supported the rights of religious symbols.
Blair moment for the Turkish Left
The Turkish political left needs a “Blair moment” like the British Labor Party. After consecutive conservative victories in the elections, the Labor Party of Britain decided to go to elections with a fresh party leader, Tony Blair, who would probably be from the Tea Party if he lived in the U.S. Blair did not come from a working class background and was determined to change the discourse and policies of the party if elected. After he was elected as the new Prime Minister of England, he changed the Labor Party’s legislation and abolished the infamous “clause four”, which harbored the application of Marxist ideology in the party guidelines. Blair even gave the party a new name. He called his party “the New Labor”, a practically center right party. Despite some sulky party members, who truly believed in the Marxist ideologies and the growing opposition to his foreign policy choices, Blair brought the party three consecutive electoral victories. Even after Ed Milliband’s take over of the party leadership, the Labor, when compared to pre-Blair period, stayed closer to center right in practice than its far left roots. This is a step the Turkish political left needs to take, if they desire to gather enough votes for governance. But the CHP deputies criticize and warn the party's chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for tending to right-wing policies. Some deputies of the CHP even held a meeting to nominate another presidential candidate.
A ‘symbolic’ president or an ‘efficient’ one?
CHP and MHP’s joint candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu is little known to public and politically inexperienced. He had no relation to CHP or MHP prior to candidacy. This shows that the opposition parties remain committed to an old-fashioned presidency in the face of the president's changing role within Turkey's political system. Many analysts depict a possible challenge between Prof. Ihsanoğlu and the candidate of the AK Party (possibly the Prime Minister) as a contest between two different conceptions of "presidency." If the opposition candidate wins the elections, the Presidency would, after these analyses, become more of a "symbolic" post, whereas if the Prime Minister is elected, he would adopt an "efficient" presidency policy. Majority of the Turks do not want to change the parliamentarian system to a presidential system but are asking the president to be more involved in matters of public interest. Turkey has been going through large-scale social transformations and for now, only the center right seems to be successful in shouldering these transformations.
As the people of Turkey, we fought, we criticized, we loved, we supported and in the end we reconciled with what the center right AK Party has given to Turkey. If the opposition parties will not display a perfectly planned and prepared center right policy change, the electorate will make their choice on the original one. If they want to take their share of the electoral victory in an increasingly right wing country like Turkey, the Turkish political left needs to take full part in the center right politics rather than hovering around for left over votes and come up with new dynamic, viable, profound new projects to prove the public that they can handle a stronger Turkey and they can embrace all layers of the society.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak
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