The hope of the CHP

Like in every Turkish election rally, there was a sea of flags. This time, last Saturday, they were the red flags of the CHP, the Republican People’s Party, and blue flags with the portrait of the party’s leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. CHP supporters waved their flags to the rhythm of the music played. Stimulating election songs, and songs by artists of different styles on stage. I asked a woman next to me who a certain artist was. She looked surprised that I didn’t know him. I said: ‘I’m a foreigner; I don’t know all these people.’ She smiled, answered my question and then asked if I was from Europe. I said yes, from Holland. Her face changed from smiling to grim, her eyes from friendly to fire. I didn’t understand the details of what she said, but it was very obvious that Europe wasn’t any good.

I was eye to eye with what I call ‘old CHP’. This woman really seemed to represent it. Grim and easily angered, nationalistic, an Atatürk-lover without the slightest doubt, fiercely against everyone who wants to change state truths that have for decades been carved in stone. Often, these CHP supporters are rather well off in life: they come from families with positions within the state bureaucracy, or from business elites.

People’s party

The CHP has been serving this group of their voters very well over the last couple of years. They have been refusing any cooperation with governing party AKP, because they accuse it of threatening secularism, they have been defending the power that be, including that of the army, and stood up for people on trial for plotting a coup. The strange thing is, the CHP is supposed to be a social-democrat party, a party for the people. If there is anything they have not been for ages, it’s a people’s party.

You can see this too in the election campaign. I live in a rather poor neighbourhood, and there are surely some votes to be got here for a party that is genuinely social democrat. There are Roma in my part of the city too, and if the CHP would do what it should do as social democrats, they would make sensible policies for this discriminated group in society and win votes. But the CHP is not even campaigning here, they only have a noisy campaign bus near the Üsküdar harbour. If you want to see the CHP campaigning, you have to go to the rich parts of town. That’s where their voters live. Can you believe how totally out of balance things have grown for social democracy in Turkey?

Is there hope? Yes, there is. During the rally this Saturday, I was with a group of young CHP supporters. Men and women in their twenties, well educated, and with their eyes turned towards the future instead of looking back to the past. One of them, Damla Cinhangir (26 years old, left on the picture and here on twitter), told me she has been voting CHP in every election, but not out of love for the party. ‘Since I was eligible to vote, I have not felt represented by any party’, she told me. ‘I only voted for the CHP because I saw no alternative.’ How sad is that?

But now, things have changed. The CHP has had a new leader since a year ago, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. This group of positive, future-minded young Turks see reasons to give him not only the benefit of the doubt but even their full support. The CHP campaign has for a good part focused on classic social democrat issues, like more equality between rich and poor. Kilicdaroglu wants to introduce a family insurance scheme, give the poorest people 600 tl a month to secure a basic income and abolish the university entrance fee (but unfortunately failed to mention where he will get the money to pay for all that). He even proposed more power to regions in Turkey, and campaigned with the plan in the Kurdish south east of the country. When you know that ‘the unity of the country’ is one of the basics of the republic that are fiercely defended by the ‘old CHP’, you can see that’s rather brave.


The great thing about Damla and her friends is that they try to reach the group of potential voters the CHP has neglected for so long. They went campaigning in poor neighbourhoods. Rang people’s door bells, talked to them about difficulties in their lives and told them about the plans of the CHP. The people were often surprised and told them they never saw the CHP in their suburbs before. Damla: ‘More young people are joining the CHP now, all over the country, and our aim is to establish a network of these local groups and be stronger.’

In the coming elections the CHP will get bigger, the polls say they might go from 21% in the last elections to 28% or even 30% now. I am not convinced yet of the change in the party. After the elections the CHP will have to perform and Kilicdaroglu has to show that he takes social democracy seriously again. For now, he seems to be between the old and the new CHP – he even chose suspected coup plotters as MP candidates. Damla sees Kilicdaroglu as the hope of the CHP, but I prefer to look at it the other way around. The grass roots like Damla and her friends, they are the hope of the CHP. If they make themselves heard and keep up the good work with their wonderful, future-minded outlook, they might be able to oust the grim, angry nationalistic old CHP. They could change the party from within. And such change is the only change that lasts.

3 replies
  1. MrImpermeable
    MrImpermeable says:

    A very good analysis of the Turkish politics! I have some doubts however.

    First, the new-CHP as you name them, changed tactics in the last 1-1,5 months. Where were they before that? I have voted only once in Turkey. That was in 1995 and I then voted for CHP. Since then I have been highly disappointed in the party. I was looking for changes as they propose now but they just do not convince me. I have the feeling it is again another windowdressing.

    Second, I do not think Kilicdaroglu is a reformist. He is a high-ranking bureaucrat with a terrible track record. The man has no vision at all about the future of this country. Just hollow promises! For example, the first project he launched when he was elected as leader of the party was giving away 600 TRL loan to poor families and in case they have children this amount could go up to 1250 TRL. A good gesture to all women in the society but where is he going to get the funding for that? What will be the criteria? When are you entitled to get this loan? How many families will be granted this loan? We do not know all of that. Official data indicate 12.7 million Turkish citizens live below the poverty line. Let us assume we are dealing with big families of six members will apply for the loan. Let us again assume they get only 1.000 TRL a month. This will cost the Turkish treasury 2 billion TRL a month and 24 billion TRL a year. How is Turkey going to finance all that? I do not know and none is telling me that. I watched a video of him at CHP congress. He literally says: ‘My name is Kemal Kilicdaroglu. When I say I will find the money than I will” What a joke!

    Third, he says he is going to create 800.000 jobs. How? We do not know. He says sustainable growth. How? We do not know. He says Turkey is going to grow with 7% each year. How is he going to realize that? We do not know. He says the farmers will get subsidized diesel. This will cost the treasury $5 billion a year. How is he going to compensate that? We do not know. I know a very good Dutch expression for that: Praatjes vullen geen gaatjes!

    Finally yet importantly, he is too much occupied with personal quarrels. Instead of attacking views and party programs, he is involved in personal fights. I am highly annoyed about that.
    Eleanor Roosevelt once said that great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.

    Next 4 years will tell us what we can expect from him. I hope he will become a good social democrat but I have my doubts. I just hope the new guard (like Damla in your article) in the party will find their way to reform and prepare the party for the next elections in 2015. Turkey needs a change that is for sure. However, Kilicdaroglu and his creepy wingman are not the solution.

  2. BA from Hengelo, Holland
    BA from Hengelo, Holland says:

    As I stated on Twitter I liked your take on the election campaign and the CHP in particular, but overall I think it has been biased by the negative agit-prop coined by so called liberals and AKP-minions in disguise (such as MrImpermeable right above). What you should ask yourself is why the woman you told you were Dutch reacted angrily (she probably thought you were related to that awful hypocrite Joost Lagendijk;-)). The reflex to discard her as old fashioned etc is too easy and has no merit whatsoever. I don’t claim she’s right, but you should try to understand her point of view before judging it.

    For, the so-called liberal henchmen tell us all that CHP has been some kind of Baath party, whereas history is clear about the reforms the republicans have achieved in Turkey. Islamists, conservatives and free-market fetishists are still trying to erase these achievements (universal suffrage, legal equality, abolishment of hereditary nobility for instance) after 80 odd years. And these so-called liberals tell us that CHP-voters support military coups, are rich, ultra nationalistic, and paranoid. But are they really?

    No, they are not and they never have been. All military coups, except the one in 1960, have been targeted against left. After the ’70 and especially the ’80 coup CHP-supporters were imprisoned, tortured and killed. And why did they support the 1960 coup? Because the leader of the Democrats, Menderes, had finally lost it and threatened to pass legislature to declare all opposition parties illegal. Before this he had organized ethnic cleansing pogroms against Greek citizens in 1956. CHP then supported the idea that he had to be removed in order to save democracy. And indeed the junta reinstalled the parliament in a very short time and passed a Constitution that has been the most progressive Turkey has ever had. What the CHP did not approve of was the hanging of Menderes and his two most loyal ministers. That has indeed Menderes a martyrer instead of the wannabe dictator that he really was.

    This comment is growing too long. What I really wanted to say was that you should dive in to the history of CHP and not let their opponents explain them to you. Zürcher, our own Dutch expert, is a better source than the Ahmet Altan’s of this world. Yes, Baykal was a very wrong leader for CHP and has kept this people’s party down for a long while, but Kiliçdaroglu is getting the old party right back where it belongs. Kiliçdaroglu is certainly not the way the weasel above me tells you. They fear him, and rightly so, because he is honest and incorruptable (if that’s a word). Those are traits they cannot relate to…


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