Turkey’s opposition in the throes of transformation

For the first time in history, Cankaya’s residents were indifferent to the CHP’s district congress. In the past, the hall would hardly be able to host the crowds. This time, it was practically empty. Party delegates cast their votes unenthusiastically. Yet, even when the CHP performed very poorly, Cankaya always served as a stronghold for the party. The CHP’s ideology and goals about the future have been exhausted. The election lists have started to be prepared based on Cankaya municipality-centric self-interest and by the Cankaya and Ankara management. This self-interest is related to the lucre, kiosks and restaurants, employment, follow-ups, etc. Therefore, the results of this congress were largely determined by the Cankaya municipality, backed by the CHP’s headquarters. Cankaya is just one example. In all of the party’s congresses across the country, the municipalities influenced the results. The opposition had no chance.

Ahead of the CHP’s main ordinary congress (held after every general election), slated for Jan. 16-17, the CHP is preparing for the presidential system. To this end, Kemal Kilicdaroglu is planning to turn the CHP into a “boutique” party. The CHP will be reduced in size, dispensing with its goal of coming to power altogether. A problem-free party without dissident groups is being targeted. According to this plan, 900 of about 1,200 delegates will be of Alevi origin and the CHP will serve as a safe harbor for Alevis against the strong undercurrents of the presidential system in coming years. The number of the members of the party assembly will be reduced from 60 to 40 and the Central Executive Board (MYK) from 17 to 12. In 2011, the party assembly membership decreased from 80 to 60. Parties grow with people. If a party fails to embrace new people, it must shrink.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has embarked on the activities for the transition to the presidential system. In March 2016, budget negotiations may be followed by constitutional referendum. The Treasury’s subsidies for political parties will be abolished. The CHP’s annual costs are approximately TL 12 million (about $4 million). The CHP is preparing to transition from “the CHP financed by the Treasury” model to “the CHP financed by its municipalities” model. In other words, Kilicdaroglu will lean on the party’s mayors. This will give mayors greater say in the party’s affairs and the mayors will start to determine the party’s management.

Is the CHP’s new vision a sustainable one? Will a new party appealing to the same voters as the CHP emerge? Who is uneasy within the CHP? The first group consists of the Sunni social democrats that cannot carve out a political career for themselves at the CHP. The second group comprises social democrats concerned about Turkey’s future. The third group consists of the politicians who had political careers on the center-right before the AK Party and who now seek to pursue their political futures within the CHP. There are efforts to establish a new party, which will appeal to the secular voters of the center right. These efforts are led by old-time, center-right politicians unable to find a career at the AK Party. In other words, this is pure nostalgia.

In the presidential system, the AK Party’s goal is to ensure that the Sunni Kurds who voted for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on June 7 but returned to the AK Party on Nov. 1 will stay with the AK Party forever. The HDP is expected to lend support to the presidential system in return for “unnamed autonomy.” The HDP and its Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas are under pressure from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). They cannot step away from the PKK’s clout. This paves the way for the HDP’s distancing of its policies away from being Turkey-centric to becoming an ethnic or regional party with increased marginalization and radicalism.

The AK Party is preparing to devour the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which would be likely to shrink under a presidential system and is heading toward a leadership fight. With its nationalist discourse, the AK Party is increasing its appeal to the MHP’s voter base. Ataturkist religiosity is becoming popular. On Nov. 10, Ankara and İstanbul metropolitan municipalities used many Ataturk posters and Turkish flags. The crisis with Russia is boosting nationalist sentiments in Turkey. These sentiments are playing into the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party. The downing of the aircraft, the rage of Vladimir Putin, the restrictions on Turkish goods and Turks, racist remarks, the shows by Russian warships passing through the Bosporus…