Eight months. Eight months to go till the general elections in Turkey. Is that enough for the biggest opposition party CHP to kick the AKP out of power, or at least to take away their monopoly on power? It should be. There are enough topics that the party can focus on to draw voters. But they have to start now. And the big question is this: does leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu finally have a firm enough grip on the reins to win the race?
The power struggle was intense this week inside the CHP, (Republican People’s Party). Kemal Kilicdaroglu has led the party since earlier this year, when he took over from Deniz Baykal (read more on that here). He wanted to reform the internal structure of the party, and by so doing take away the power of the secretary-general, Önder Sav. Sav is not a Kilicdaroglu supporter, and with his powerful position he would be a continuous threat to Kilicdaroglu and a possible cause for instability in the party. So Kilicdaroglu designed a party structure with the power divided amongst more people. Of course Sav didn’t just give up. In fact a court decision was needed to get Kilicdaroglu’s board accepted.
The TV images of the party congress were unbelievable: excitement with words inside the hall, excitement with fists outside the hall, fiery speeches, reluctant hand shakes, the crowd of party decision makers cheering, booing, applauding and almost jumping on Kilicdaroglu’s neck to show their support. You have to understand that physically Kilicdaroglu is not an impressive man. He looks sort of fragile, he’s not tall, he’s thin, he has a friendly, almost soft expression, he’s not a snappy dresser and most of the time doesn’t even wear a tie. But he stood firm under all this pressure, and seemed, no, was very determined. And he won.
During the party congress he made speeches about his vision for Turkey and the CHP. It seems he doesn’t only want to break with the old, dictatorial CHP party structures, but also with the old policies of the CHP. The party was founded by Atatürk as a social democratic one, but there is nothing social democratic about the party now. They are not progressive, they are pro status quo, they never contributed in any way to the democratization process Turkey is undergoing, (on the contrary, they tried to block it in any way possible), they refused to talk to governing party AKP about big, important issues like a new constitution or the Kurdish question. Will Kilicdaroglu really change all this?
That’s what we are really eager to see now. Stop talking about a new direction for the CHP, but actually take that new direction! Kilicdaroglu has been in power now since May, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The campaign against the constitutional changes was a farce, he made some incomprehensible remarks about the headscarf issue, he said the CHP is committed to totally revise Turkey’s constitution but fails to be more specific than that, etc. Maybe that was because he wasn’t secure enough yet with Sav still on his back. Now that Sav is out, will he really start to turn the CHP back into a social democrat party?
There is enough material to work with. And no, I don’t mean the topics I mentioned before, like the Kurdish question, the headscarf issue of even the new constitution. If the CHP wants to win the elections, those are not the things to focus on. I mean, Kurds don’t vote for the CHP anyway, they vote AKP (if they vote according to their religious identity) or BDP (if they vote according to their Kurdish identity). Women with headscarves are not potential CHP voters either. And a new constitution is considered necessary by almost everybody in Turkey, but it doesn’t effect daily life enough to attract masses of voters.
What does? The economy, of course. Turkey’s economy is doing pretty well when you look at the growth figures (growth figures around 10% and inflation going down), but unemployment is still high. More importantly: the problem is especially urgent among the youth, and the AKP has done practically nothing to address that. If the CHP could come up with a solid plan to fight (youth) unemployment, I’m sure that would attract many voters. Even more so because Turkey’s population is young: the average age is 27, so focussing on youth is a really smart idea.
Another economic topic that the CHP could use to gain votes is privatizations. The AKP is rather ruthlessly privatizing state companies, not in the first place to build stronger private markets and in the longer term create jobs, but mainly to get revenues. More privatizations are planned, and many Turks don’t like it. What if the CHP were to propose a tactic to privatize in a socially acceptable way, one that benefits the workers?
You never know within the CHP. Kilicdaroglu won this important battle, but that doesn’t mean there is no opposition to him any more. There are also still supporters of former leader Baykal. The only way to shut them up would be to start acting now. It might have an effect on the pre-election polls, and a election victory becoming a realistic goal would help a great deal to pre-empt potential internal rebellion. Kilicdaroglu’s supporters have their slogan ready, and it could be heard this weekend over and over again: ‘Kemal for Prime Minister!’ Let the race begin!