Fresh young flock

Some call him the only hope for leftist Turks: Mustafa Sarigül. He is the mayor of Sisli, a district in Istanbul, and he is about to start a new political party, the Turkey Change Movement. A real social democrat party, he promises, with the aim of justice and work for all.

So when the foreign press club announced a meeting with Sarigül as guest, I immediately signed up. I prepared some questions, some about the movement, but also one about himself, and that one had to do with his history in politics. Sarigül has been a member of another political party, the CHP, for years, and he was a rising star there. In 2005, he challenged for the leadership against Deniz Baykal, well into his seventies now, who has been in the leadership of the party for decades (I’m not exaggerating). He lost the battle, and was subsequently expelled from the party. I wondered if now, when he looks back on those events, he would consider that a blessing in disguise? Since the CHP had become a rigid, very nationalist, opposed-to-everything party that can’t be called social democratic any more. And now Sarigül is in a position to start a whole new movement.

But despite the promises, Sarigül didn’t show up at his first get-to-know-you with the foreign press. He had something more important to do at the last moment. A pity, but two co-founders of the (soon-to-be) party took over, a retired ambassador and a young female lawyer, which in fact immediately demonstrated one of the topics that Sarigül says are important to him: democracy within the party (which doesn’t exist in any party in Turkey), and a lot of space for youth and women (also non-existent so far).

The story of the Turkey Change Movement is good. They talked about justice, not only in the courts but also in culture, in politics, in the economy, in every aspect of life for every Turk, in every region of the country (read: also the Kurdish southeast). They favour a different secularism than Turkey has seen up to now, which is a secularism respectful of beliefs. They want more decision-making power devolved to the provinces, and not everything centrally governed from Ankara – a pretty daring thing to say in Turkey.

So far it’s all talk. The next general elections are scheduled for July 2011, and the movement is determined to win power from the AKP. in the polls they are already getting about 16% of the votes – you can say it means nothing, but for a party that doesn’t even officially exist yet, it’s not ‘nothing’. And, they said, many Turks vote AKP or CHP because they see no alternative, not because they like the party or their leader very much. True, I have heard dozens of Turks say so. CHP voters see their party declining under Baykal’s reign, but don’t know what else to vote. Many liberals voted AKP, but just to give them a chance, while they would prefer a party without Islamic roots. Turkey Change Movement thinks they are the alternative for voters from both parties.

Wiping the AKP away from power is not going to be easy. But I did feel their determination to make it happen. It would be exciting to see a totally new party, with a fresh approach and fresh people, make a spectacular entrance into Turkish politics. And then follow them closely and critically, to see if they live up to expectations. Like the AKP did in the beginning of their reign, but failed to do over the last few years.

The excitement and drive that seems to be there in Turkey Change Movement sort of answered the question I couldn’t ask Sarigül: I’m sure to him it’s a blessing in disguise not leading the CHP. It would have been like dragging an old, almost dead, horse forward. Now he can lead a fresh, young and alive flock to the 2011 elections. I’ll keep you posted!

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