Congress defines future Turkish opposition party

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s biggest opposition party, the CHP, is getting ready for a historical party congress tomorrow in the capital, Ankara. Will party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu get the chance to modernize the party and thus make it ready for the general elections in June, or will the ‘old gang’ remain in charge behind the scenes? The hope of leftist Turks rests with Kilicdaroglu.

The congress is coming together to choose the Party Council, which has a strong influence on the list of candidates for the elections. Up until now the Party Council has been dominated by a strong opponent of Kilicdaroglu, Önder Sav. Sav had a lot of influence as Secretary-General of the party, but was ousted by Kilicdaroglu during an exciting congress last month. Via the Party Council Sav wants to try to still get his candidates on the list of candidates for parliament.

Önder Sav is not the only one chasing Kilicdaroglu. The previous party leader, Deniz Baykal, is also working on a come-back. He had to step down earlier this year because of a sex scandal, after having lead the party for eighteen years.

During Baykal’s reign the CHP, the creation of Turkey’s founding father Atatürk, drifted away from social-democracy. The party became more nationalistic, becoming spokes- person for an army that is getting less powerful, took a rigid position in Turkey’s democratisation process, and thus didn’t contribute in any way to reforms necessary for EU accession.

Kilicdaroglu is seen as the man who can lift the curse from the party and give a new voice to leftist Turkey. Being a Kurd and an Alevite, he could also weaken the strongly nationalist face of the CHP. For the present, Kilicdarogly hasn’t yet done much to make the party more Social-Democrat once again, but that could be related to his still fragile position at the top. Iit’s generally acknowledged that the CHP doesn’t stand a chance in the general election without Kilicdaroglu and without radical reforms.

The elections on June 12th are mainly between the CHP and governing AKP. The AKP has been governing for eight years now with an absolute majority in parliament. In the previous elections, in 2007, the CHP got 21% of the votes, the AKP 46%. That gap has narrowed, but for now nothing points to a potential victory for the CHP. That could change after this weekend’s party congress.

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