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Monday, 10 September 2007

The end of the CHP

We all know the Republican People's Party (CHP) has been somewhat split since the July's general election. We also know that Mustafa Sarıgül, mayor of Istanbul's Şişli district, has launched a campaign to topple the party's stubborn leader, Deniz Baykal, and has recruited a sizeable group to his cause. What we didn't know was the extent of the split in the CHP. Two separate meetings in Ankara yesterday helped us figure that one out.

September 9th is the anniversary of the CHP's foundation. Mr Baykal chose to mark this day, and no doubt reassert his dwindling influence, by visiting the tomb of his party's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And so 170 thousand people from all across the country descended on the mausoleum in Ankara. They arrived with Turkish flags and posters of their founder, and chanted for enduring secularism. Mr Baykal wrote in the VIP guestbook that there were "attacks on the Republic from inside, not outside" and it had to be defended. All in all, it was rather like those Republican rallies that took place in the spring.

It just so happened that Mr Baykal's attempts to secure his seat coincided with another rally barely ten minutes down the road, in front of the CHP headquarters. This was the Sarıgül rally, with its desperately uncatchy slogan "Codeword: 999 S, destination: government". It turns out "999 S" refers to a Sarıgül rally on the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month. Ho-hum. It was not the success Sarıgülists would tell you it was: attendance was ten thousand, a mere fifth of what was predicted; Mr Sarıgül was himself the only major figure present; and television news that evening gave more space to Mr Baykal's gig.

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from the day's events. The first is that Mr Baykal's leadership is in the ironic position of being both untenable and secure. He won yesterday: his was the bigger rally, his was the greater parade of influence. Mr Sarıgül does not command nearly as much support, even among Baykal antagonists, and that is partly because he is seen as insincere and unlikeable. In that sense, he differs little from Mr Baykal. For the moment, there is little hope of a change in CHP leadership.

The second conclusion is far more serious: the end is nigh for Atatürk's unreformed party. In his cumulative sixteen-or-so years as CHP leader, Deniz Baykal has entrenched Kemalist ideology, stamped out the high fliers and secured his position by fractioning the Turkish left. As Mr Sarıgül rightly pointed out yesterday, July's election was the seventh in a row that the CHP had lost - and that's without counting local elections. Mr Baykal has now presided over four of them.

Mr Baykal answers critics by saying they won a million more votes than last time; what he blindly ignores is that the governing AK party won six million additional votes. He ignores polls that say nearly three-quarters of CHP voters voted "in spite of the leader". He refuses to recognise that AK's phenomenal victory came through embracing every section of the Turkish people; Mr Baykal did not campaign east of Sivas.

But the issue here is more than mere electoral mathematics. It is now a question of what the CHP is for. There are two stark choices: should it continue to be Atatürk's party and defend his mantra to the death, or should it reclaim those social democratic roots and form a balance to the centre-right AK party? Turkey has changed, the two are no longer compatible. Mr Baykal does not recognise that. The phrase "out of touch" has never been more fitting.

It is with great sorrow that I predict the end of the CHP. This is not fatal for Turkish political opposition, as I had warned a couple of months ago, because Devlet Bahçeli's Nationalist Action Party has since cunningly slipped itself into that position. But it is fatal for the Turkish left wing, which has never been so fractioned and ineffective. Turkey is a naturally conservative country, but that doesn't mean it can do without a liberal voice. The trouble is that there is no easy solution.

5 comments:

Christy Quirk said...

At this point, parties like CHP need to reform or die. I agree that CHP has got one foot in the grave.

If there is a legitimate political force that remains unrepresented as a result of its demise (and I think there is), something will fill the space. I hope its leaders watch and learn from AKP.

Bad Tyrpist said...

I'm not sure that CHP has ever really been a left wing party, despite its current resemblance to a Stalinist Old Guard. Sarıgül is Khruschev. The famous former leaders are like Bolshevik founding fathers...a bit more cultured than Baykal's Stalin (for they come from a more privileged and aristocratic time) and regretful of his thuggish ways, but duly respectful of Historical Necessity.

And it is certainly not liberal, neither in the European sense or the American. Ironically, the AKP is liberal...at least in the European sense. It's probably the most liberal party this country has ever seen.

I see no serious ideological difference remaining between the CHP and the less violent bits of the MHP.

The MHP has a clever, politically intelligent leader. The CHP does not.

The principle of Natural Selection applies here.

abuzer said...

I don't think that CHP and MHP can merge. CHP's main (and perhaps only) political issue is secularism, I don't recall MHP leaders ever talking about secularism. I, for one, would have gnashed my teeth and still voted for CHP (if I had been in Turkey at the time) for the lack of an alternative. But I can't ever imagine bringing myself to vote for MHP because of their thuggery, ethnocentrism , isolationism etc. Similarly, some of the voter base of MHP would shift to BBP.

I guess as long as AKP has its Islamist elements, CHP won't let go of being a reactionary, single issue party and as long as the opposition is in such poor shape AKP will not be challenged. I don't think that there will be much of change in Turkish political lanscape unless a) there is an economic crisis b)Turkey's security situation deteriorates seriously c)AKP leadership tries to overreach politically on some issues and create a split in the party (but they seem to be too smart to do that at this point).

bad tyrpist said...

"... MHP because of their thuggery, ethnocentrism , isolationism etc. "

I think that's the direction CHP is currently going, also. That's the point. The ground between these two erstwhile enemies is narrowing.

Anonymous said...

"should it continue to be Atatürk's party and defend his mantra to the death, or should it reclaim those social democratic roots and form a balance to the centre-right AK party"
----------------------------------
It's the reverse, the roots of CHP - the politically closest party to Europe - is really not social democratic, it is Kemalist. It has deviated to a socialist party after Atatürk's death.

As a left-wing party obviously the CHP cannot merge with the right-wing MHP. The MHP could merge with other parties on the right and become a great party that can crush the obscurantist AKP. (now right-wing secular Turks massively vote for AKP despite its Wahhabi ideology, as a result of a lack of a strong right-wing alternative)

I truly hope the CHP can return to its roots as the party of Atatürk.

Deniz